Minister of Health Tyler Shandro removes his mask while announcing a new agreement between Alberta Health Services and a local manufacturer to produce medical equipment in Calgary, Alta. on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Shandro is defending Alberta’s COVID-19 tracing app despite revelations it has been used in just 19 cases since the spring. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Alberta health minister defends province’s COVID-tracing app despite few contacts

Alberta health minister defends province’s COVID-tracing app despite few contacts

EDMONTON — Alberta’s health minister is defending the province’s COVID-19 tracing app despite revelations it has tracked just 19 cases since the spring.

Tyler Shandro said Tuesday he is in favour of all resources that help in the fight against the pandemic, but reiterated the federal app isn’t a good fit for Alberta. The province has a total of just over 10,000 active infections.

“The app here in Alberta, ABTraceTogether, is one of the many tools that we have in the system to be able to help relieve our contact tracers,” Shandro told the house during an angry exchange with Opposition Leader Rachel Notley.

Alberta Health says ABTraceTogether has to date identified 70 close contacts in 19 cases.

Alberta and British Columbia are the only provinces that have not signed onto the federal app, COVID Alert, which has been downloaded well over five million times.

Notley accused Shandro of refusing to adopt the federal app because of long-standing personal and political friction between United Conservative Premier Jason Kenney and Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“Will the minister apologize for the premier’s decision to put his feud with Ottawa ahead of the health and safety of Albertans?” the NDP leader asked Shandro.

“This is not a provincial versus federal issue,” Shandro replied. “The (Alberta) app is a contact-tracing app. The federal app is not a contact-tracing app. It’s an anonymous notification app. It does not relieve pressures for our contact tracers.”

Anyone testing positive who uses the federal app can punch in a code and the app will send alerts to phones that were within two metres of the infected person’s device for significant periods in the prior 14 days.

Alberta faces skyrocketing COVID-19 daily case numbers that are impacting the health system and contract tracers. On Tuesday, the province reported 773 new cases; 268 people were in hospital.

Direct contact tracing has been reduced to priority groups and the province is working to hire 400 more contact tracers to supplement its current roster of 800.

On Monday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical health officer, said that with 15 new contacts for every new case and up to 1,000 cases a day, tracers are overwhelmed by 15,000 contacts every 24 hours.

Officials said that, as of Monday, they had not been able to trace the origin of 73 per cent of cases.

Notley said it’s ludicrous to support a “broken” app that is feeding a tracing system that is itself overwhelmed and broken.

“The dysfunctional logic of the UCP blame-trust over there would almost be funny if it wasn’t putting lives on the line,” she said.

“People in other provinces get an automatic text message when they’ve been near someone who has tested positive. Albertans do not. It is long overdue.

Shandro responded that the government is acting on the advice of Hinshaw.

“I quite frankly find it appalling, I find it shameful, and I find it disgusting that the NDP continue to undermine the response to the pandemic (and) undermine one of the many tools we have to respond to the pandemic.”

Health spokeswoman Zoe Cooper said ABTraceTogether has 268,000 users.

“The work of contact tracing is vital in identifying and containing the virus and to better protect the population. The more Albertans who download ABTraceTogether, the more effective it will be in helping limit the spread of COVID-19,” said Cooper.

“We need each Albertan to do their part.”

This report by the Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2020.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Red Deer hits 304 active COVID-19 cases

Six new deaths were reported in Alberta

Clearview Public Schools had slight enrolment increase in September. (Image from Facebook)
Positive COVID-19 test reported at Stettler high school

An individual who was at Wm. E. Hay Stettler Secondary Campus has… Continue reading

(Advocate file photo).
Woman ‘beyond frustrated’ by Red Deer College program’s volunteer requirements

Teddie Briggs says she was “beyond frustrated” after learning Red Deer College’s… Continue reading

Hugh Danielson and Brayden Watts, of Red Deer are trying to spread the word about a new innovation for wheelchairs that they think will be especially helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Brayden Watts)
Red Deer company lands exclusive patent rights to wheelchair extension

By some small miracle, Hugh Danielson and Brayden Watts stumbled upon a… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Employee at Bethany CollegeSide in Red Deer tests positive for COVID-19

An employee at a Red Deer continuing care facility has tested positive… Continue reading

Teresa Kutynec, Red Deer Christmas Bureau president, dressed up as Mrs. Claus during the Charity Checkstop on Saturday. The event supports four nonprofit organizations: the Christmas Bureau, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Red Deer Food Bank and Women’s Outreach Centre. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Charity Checkstop raises money for nonprofit organizations

Red Deerians supported four local nonprofit organizations without even having to leave… Continue reading

The commemorative plaque is seen on the outside wall at the Polytechnique in Montreal, on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. Sunday will mark the 31st anniversary of the murder of 14 women in an antifeminist attack at Ecole Polytechnique on December 6, 1989. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Scaled-back, virtual ceremonies to mark 31st anniversary of Polytechnique killings

MONTREAL, France — The anniversary of the attack that cut short the… Continue reading

A man wears a face mask as he skateboards along a street in Montreal, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
COVID-19 cases hit new records as Tam urges perseverance, promises vaccine on the way

Canada’s top doctor urged cautious optimism — and a healthy dose of… Continue reading

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Manitoba judge rules church can’t hold drive-in services forbidden by health order

WINNIPEG — A Manitoba judge has rejected a church’s request to hold… Continue reading

Homeowners Cora and Alec Dion pose in the basement of their home in Fort McMurray, Alta., on May 8, 2020. More than seven months ago, the Dions were forced to flee Fort McMurray for the second time in four years as a spring flood threatened their home. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Greg Halinda
Fort McMurray residents still cleaning, considering options after spring flooding

‘It’s worse than just having water, because it’s ice mixed in with the water’

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. Anand says as soon as she knows when the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine will arrive on Canadian soil, she will share that information with the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Negotiating contracts for vaccines in development needed flexibility: Anand

Health Canada officials are days, maybe even hours, away from approving the COVID-19 vaccine

Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota rises in the House of Commons, Wednesday, May 13, 2020 in Ottawa. nbsp; THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Speaker Rota reflects on first year presiding over unprecedented virtual Parliament

‘It’s not what I signed up for but it is what it is’

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s $17 million Lotto Max draw

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the $17 million jackpot… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Hay’s Daze: Not used to seeing giraffe with a mask

My bad. Now there’s an expression that used to stick in my… Continue reading

Most Read