‘This isn’t working’: Experts and COVID-19 patients express concern with Alberta’s app

CALGARY — Calls for Alberta to allow the federal COVID-19 app are growing as the province revealed how rarely its own app has been successfully used to detect possible exposure.

Since it launched in May, Alberta Health has been able to use data collected from its ABTraceTogether app in 19 cases, to trace 70 contacts who may have come in contact with the people who tested positive.

“19 times during the pandemic,” stressed Calgary engineer Ziad Fazel.

“And this is a custom-developed app that Alberta Health specifically made to assist contact tracers and it’s done it three times a month for six months.”

Fazel, who has been researching the app is one of the people urging the province to allow Albertans to use the federal version.

App

Canada’s COVIDAlert app provides instant anonymous alerts to anyone who may have been exposed.

“And it is not dependent upon the overwhelmed and way, way behind human contact tracers,” said NDP Leader Rachel Notley who is also pressing the province to adopt the federal app.

The province stands by its decision, saying it is better because it personally connects contact tracers with people at risk.

“She (Notley) is undermining the credibility of that app, it works,” said Alberta’s Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

People who have researched ABTraceTogether app say it is not effective.

“I was surprised as I looked into it how poorly unfortunately the app works,” said Mathieu Fenniak a Calgary software developer and engineer.

Fenniak did an experiment and found even the province’s recent fix to stop the app from turning off, and allow it to continue running in the background, didn’t work with Apple iPhones.

Alberta says of the 268, 000 times its app has been downloaded, 66 per cent have been on Apple’s iOS.

“I feel like we are at a point where we should look at this data and objectively say well this isn’t working and this isn’t the right path,” said Fenniak.

The app also doesn’t work to trace all types of devices, but experts say the federal app does not share that problem since it was developed later using a system developed jointly by Google and Apple.

Tested positive together

Dani Pohn and her wife started were early adopters of ABTraceTogether so when the pair tested positive for COVID-19 in June they thought the fact they had been using the app would help contact tracers.

“They were actually very excited that I had the app because not a lot of people were using it but then we weren’t able to use the technology at all,” said Pohn.

Instead, she had to pass along details of people they may have exposed to and contact tracers reached out.

“The contact tracer was quite fantastic, she went through where we’d been in the last week which wasn’t very many places because we were being very cautious,” she explained.

“Everyone got tested and everyone was negative which was a relief.”

Pohn is disappointed to hear the app still has not been able to to help contact tracers in very many cases in Alberta.

“I think the longer this goes on just the lower confidence there is in the ability of any app.”

 

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