Covid Alert, Covid-19, Ontario, Public health, Toronto

Your bubble is bigger than you think

Contract tracing can be effective if you were exposed to Covid-19 at a restaurant or at your workplace, where your phone number was logged so that you could be called in the event of an outbreak.

However, how would you know if the person you sat next to on the bus or the subway for more than 15 minutes later tested positive for Covid? Or what if you spent 25 minutes shopping and were exposed to multiple asymptomatic people without knowing it.

The reality is that often we cross paths with many people in one day, but unfortunately contact tracing is not always a possibility. We might think of our bubbles consisting of our partner, friends, coworkers, and family, but the truth is our bubbles are bigger than what we think.

But what if you and the person you sat next to on the subway both wore masks and had the Covid Alert app installed on your smartphones? The masks would reduce the risk of transmission, and the Covid Alert app would notify you and others who came in close contact with that person of exposure, thus helping prevent further contagion. To help flatten the curve we must make the Covid Alert app as popular as mask-wearing. Download Covid Alert today and help spread the word.

Covid Alert, Covid-19, Ontario, Public health, Toronto

Covid Alert prevents further infections

The cancellation of a curling event in Waterloo after a player was notified by the Covid Alert app that they had contact with a person who tested positive for Covid-19 is a win for the hard-working team that developed this app. A win because this cancellation is a case study of exactly how the app should work.

Imagine we did not have the Covid Alert app and the player was infected. The player could transmit the virus to the other players, the players could transmit the virus to patrons and employees at their local pub, the patrons and employees could transmit the virus to their partners who teach at the local school, and the teachers could transmit the virus to students and other teachers. The curling event would be a bubble connected to the pub’s bubble, which in turn is connected to the school’s bubble. And without Covid Alert we could have had yet another dreaded super spreader event. However, what Covid Alert achieved was to separate the curling event, the pub, and the school into separate bubbles.

Hopefully, the player will not test positive. However, close contact presents a risk which the event organizers did not want to take. Kudos to them for showing a level of responsibility commensurate with the potential gravity of the circumstances. Perhaps they adverted several infections in great part thanks to the Covid Alert app. Certainly, the event organizers have set an example in caring for the safety of their community.

The news is bad these days. Ontario is in a second wave, the contact tracing team in Toronto is overwhelmed, but we can still take positive action: please download the Covid Alert app today. It works.

Covid Alert prevents further infections
Covid-19, Ontario, Public health, Toronto

Covid hotspots in the GTA

You may have heard in the news that Brampton unfortunately is a Covid hotspot in the General Toronto Area (GTA). Recent numbers show us that Peel Region has reported 1,180 cases since August 1, 2020 compared to the City of Toronto which reported 1,357 cases for the same time frame. The problem is that Toronto (with 2.9 million) has almost twice the population of Peel Region (with 1.5 million) yet the number of cases is comparable.

These numbers tell us that any Provincial plan to tackle this problem must go beyond blaming a few partygoers and bars. There is a strong case for more and wider testing especially in these hotspots to contain outbreaks. Also, I would like to speak to my fellow Toronto residents and say it is time to become less Toronto centric since many people live in Peel yet work in Toronto and vice versa. Therefore, any solution must consider that Peel and Toronto are in this problem together. After all, we have several Covid hotspots in Toronto as well.

We all need to demand our members of provincial Parliament more testing and improved contact tracing now otherwise we will be looking at the very real possibility of a Covid second wave in the GTA.

Covid cases in the GTA since August 1, 2020
Covid-19, Ontario, Public health, Public safety, Toronto

Covid transmission indoors

In early 2020 there was a Covid outbreak in an air-conditioned restaurant in Guangzhou, China. A study about this specific outbreak concluded that,“droplet transmission was prompted by air-conditioned ventilation.” A subsequent study recommended avoiding re-circulated air and maximizing outdoor air supply in buildings. Then the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) produced a guidance document for re-opening schools and universities.  However, one key fact remains: there is less risk of Covid transmission outdoors than indoors.

We can safely conclude that there is less risk outdoors, because most Covid transmissions have taken place indoors, and there has only been a limited number of outdoor transmission cases, as per Ian Hanomansing’s informative tweet.

This knowledge should be driving our public policy. Specifically, in the following areas:

  • University and school classes need to be outdoors (weather permitting) or better yet completely online,
  • Bars and restaurants need to have open windows or preferably patio seating, and
  • Employers may need to upgrade their ventilation systems and implement engineering controls.

On a personal note, it was sad to see Brothers Food & Wine permanently closed. I have wonderful memories of spending time there with family. However, it was admirable to see the owners of Brothers recognize that it would not be responsible to reopen a locale which did not lend itself to physical distancing.

Likewise, we must all do our part during this pandemic and whenever possible take our activities outdoors. If outdoors is not an option nor is staying at home, employers and educational institutions must rely on professional advice to implement risk mitigation measures, such as engineering controls, personal protection equipment, physical distancing and upgrading of ventilation systems.

brothers
Brothers Food & Wine is now permanently closed.

Covid Alert, Covid-19, Ontario, Public health, Public safety, Toronto

The case for Canada’s Covid Alert app

There are five reasons why we should all be optimistic about Canada’s new Covid Alert app:

  1. An Oxford study indicates that Contact Tracing apps have the potential to significantly reduce Covid transmission (noting that half of transmission cases occurred before symptoms were present);
  2. Both, Korea and Taiwan have implemented highly successful Contact Tracing apps;
  3. The low level of virus exposure notifications by some European Contact Tracing apps can be explained by the fact that social distancing measures are still in effect and these apps are still in the early stages of adoption;
  4. The Bluetooth technology used to determine “close contact” might be new, but is continuously improving; and
  5. Apple and Google, which developed the Application Programming Interface (API) used by Covid Alert, prioritized privacy.

Critics of the new app are correct to point out that many essential workers and retired folks might not be able to afford a smartphone to run this app. Nonetheless, these problems can be resolved by implementing new laws requiring employers to provide smartphones to essential workers, just like they are required to provide them with Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). Furthermore, governments should strongly consider providing free smartphones to seniors and anyone who cannot afford them in their efforts to turn the tide against Covid.

Engineers, scientists, and those working with new technologies understand that no innovation is perfect from the get-go. In fact, several iterations may be required to have a successful Covid Alert program. It is not in our spirit to give up when the going gets tough. Otherwise, Canadians would not have invented the electric wheelchair, the pacemaker, or the telephone just to name a few of our innovations.

This blog post is a call to all engineers, programmers, scientists, technologists, and innovation enthusiasts in Ontario to download the Covid Alert app today, and to please help your co-workers, family and friends install it as well. The science says Contact Tracing apps have the potential to significantly reduce Covid transmission. Now it is our turn to use Covid Alert, help improve it, and do what we do best which is to protect the public.

CovidAlert