By Andrew Pariser / RESCON
The Ontario government has announced another improvement in its approach to managing and containing COVID-19. Through the three Ts (testing, tracing, tracking), the government can quickly test, trace, and track cases, ensuring those infected are quickly isolated and treated.
These improvements will be used to stop the spread of the virus and prepare for any potential future waves.
This is certainly good news and a step in the right direction as RESCON has long been supportive of the three Ts.
This means we are moving to a proactive approach to dealing with COVID-19. With tracing and tracking, the province, public health and employers will be able to start managing COVID-19 instead of just reacting to it.
The new measures were announced as part of a comprehensive case and contact management strategy aptly called Protecting Ontarians through Enhanced Case and Contact Management.
Details of the strategy were unveiled recently at a press conference by Premier Doug Ford, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams.
The enhanced strategy focuses on strengthening and standardizing case and contact management by:
- Ensuring that all new cases and their close contacts are identified early, contacted quickly, investigated thoroughly and are followed up with daily for up to 14 days;
- Supporting public health units with up to 1,700 additional staff from Statistics Canada;
- Improving technology tools by modernizing the integrated Public Health Information System through the implementation of a new custom-built COVID-19 case and contact management system; and
- Launching a privacy-first exposure notification app to alert Ontarians when they may have been exposed to COVID-19.
The strategy is being rolled out in partnership with the federal government.
RESCON is calling for and encouraging construction workers and the public to download the new made-in-Ontario, national, Bluetooth-based app called COVID Alert once it is available in early July.
The app was developed by the Ontario Digital Service (ODS) in conjunction with a group of volunteers from Ottawa-based Shopify.
A team from Blackberry helped with a security audit of the technology.
Users will be able to voluntarily download the app and be notified anonymously if they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 14 days.
Similar technology is already in use in other jurisdictions like Germany and Japan.
The app will also provide users with quick access to Ontario's public health advice and resources, and recommend any necessary actions, such as monitoring for symptoms, self-isolation or appropriate next steps on getting tested.
The app doesn't store or share any personal or medical information or GPS-location data, but rather uses randomly generated, anonymous codes and Bluetooth signals between phones that also have the app downloaded to keep track of the proximity and duration of a certain contact.
A user will receive a notification on their smartphone screen if they have had prolonged, close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, and who also uses the app. It then provides public health advice and an outline of steps anyone who has been exposed to the virus can take.
The app is being made available for download on a volunteer basis and is meant to supplement contact tracing efforts already in place by public health authorities.
The aim, obviously, is to reduce the amount of time it takes to notify all the people who have been potentially exposed to a positive case of COVID-19.
July 2 was the scheduled launch date for the app for iPhones running iOS 5.0 or later and for Android phones running Android 6.0 or later.
To learn more about the app, RESCON members are being encouraged to tune in to an online Zoom webinar called COVID-19: Tracing and Construction, on July 7 between 1 and 2:30 p.m.
The event is for the broader construction industry and is sponsored by the Construction Design Alliance of Ontario and Construction Employers Coalition. It will feature an update from Ontario chief prevention officer Ron Kelusky and labour and employment lawyer Mike Sherrard.
To register, please contact Fiona Nguyen at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.
The federal and Ontario governments want to eventually have the app in use across Canada in the coming months as the threat of a potential second wave of infections looms.
"You can't manage what you can't measure,” said Premier Ford. “That's why our government has been relentless in building our testing and contact tracing capacity to track, trace, and contain the invisible enemy we face.”
As part of the new measures, the province is also dramatically expanding staffing levels and getting on with the long-overdue work of replacing outdated systems that no longer meet the needs of public health units.
Over the summer and into the fall, Ontario will continue to build a supplementary pool of contact tracers from the Ontario Public Service and the broader public sector for additional surge capacity, as required.
This will allow public health units to perform their other critical functions, including inspections of food premises and water in recreational facilities, and vaccinations.