June 18, 2020
Province’s Exposure Notification App Important Pillar of Plan
TORONTO — As the province safely and gradually reopens, the Ontario government is enhancing case and contact management to quickly test, trace and isolate cases of COVID-19 to stop the spread of the virus and prepare for any potential future waves. These additional measures include a comprehensive case and contact management strategy, Protecting Ontarians through Enhanced Case and Contact Management, and, in partnership with the federal government, a new made-in-Ontario national app called COVID Alert.
Details were provided today by Premier Doug Ford and Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, and Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health.
The government’s 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 (iPHIS) 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.
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure. 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,” said Premier Ford. “As we take our contact tracing strategy to the next level today, I want to thank the federal government for providing more boots on the ground and supporting a privacy-first app that will protect both Ontarians and Canadians alike.”
“Along with the early detection of new cases through the ongoing implementation of our enhanced testing strategy, more effective and efficient case and contact management will ensure that we are able to stop the spread of COVID-19 as we gradually reopen the province,” said Minister Elliott. “To support these efforts, we are dramatically expanding staffing levels and getting on with the long-overdue work of replacing outdated systems that no longer meet the needs of public health units.”
Ontario is providing updated case and contact management guidance for all public health units to ensure consistency across the province. To continue to ensure cases and their contacts are reached in a timely and effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, public health units will:
- Connect with cases, and with all individuals who have had close contact with a positive case, within 24 hours of being identified;
- Direct all close contacts to self-isolate for up to 14 days;
- Follow up with close contacts every day for the duration of their self-isolation; and
- Advise testing of all appropriate close contacts.
To augment the current provincial capacity of approximately 2,000 case managers and contact tracers, Ontario is providing additional contact tracing staff. New and expanded capacity will be provided through Statistics Canada with access to up to 1,700 additional staff, available to all provinces, for contact tracing. Public Health Ontario will continue overseeing the training and coordination of these additional resources.
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.
To help Ontarians stay safe as the province reopens and social interactions increase, Ontario will be partnering with the federal government to launch COVID Alert, a new privacy-first exposure notification app, within the next two weeks. The made-in-Ontario app was developed by the Ontario Digital Service (ODS) and a group of volunteers from Shopify. One of the overarching principles is ensuring the privacy and security for all users, which is why the government will leverage BlackBerry volunteer expertise to audit the security and privacy of the application, in addition to the province’s internal security reviews.
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. In Ontario, 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. Using a national application will help ensure that Ontarians are notified, regardless of which province they are in, helping us towards the goal of ensuring we can all move more freely and safely.
Ontario is also implementing a new user-friendly case and contact management system that will integrate with COVID-19 laboratory results from the Ontario Laboratory Information System (OLIS) data, making current processes significantly more efficient and reducing the administrative burden for public health unit staff. A single central system will enable the province to identify provincewide regional trends and hotspots, while protecting personal health information. Custom-built on the Salesforce platform, the new system will also allow for a remote workforce, enabling contact tracing to be quickly ramped up when required.
Everyone should continue to follow public health guidelines to stay safe, including physical distancing with people not in your social circle, wearing a face covering if physical distancing is a challenge, washing your hands thoroughly and frequently, and, if you think you have COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19, getting tested.
- iPHIS was implemented in phases starting on April 1, 2005, with full implementation across the province by the end of that year.
- Approximately 97 per cent of new COVID-19 cases are currently being reached by local public health officials within one day, with guidance and direction to contain community spread.
- The exposure notification app will not collect personal or location data. It uses Bluetooth technology to send out encrypted, anonymized codes to other nearby phones that have the app. The app was built using the Apple/Google framework for exposure notification to ensure that it leverages global best practices to protect privacy.
- No Ontarian will be declined a test at an assessment centre (either through appointment or walk-in, per the processes of each individual assessment centre), especially those who are symptomatic or who are concerned they have been exposed to COVID-19. Visit Ontario’s website to find your local assessment centre and whether you need to call ahead to make an appointment.
- Learn about Ontario’s gradual, phased approach to reopening the province.
- Learn about Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19.
- Visit Ontario’s website to learn more about how the province continues to protect Ontarians from COVID-19