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Download the COVID Alert App: ‘If we’re going to get a handle on this disease we need all the tools we can get…’


Waking up to a notification on your phone that you’ve been potentially in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID is definitely not an ideal situation. Restaurateur Alison MacKenna experienced just that. “There are definitely more relaxing ways to wake up – obviously it’s a little scary to see the words ‘you’ve been exposed’,” she says.

Alison co-owns The Walton in Toronto with her husband Sunny Yoanidis and downloaded Health Canada’s COVID Alert app the day it was released. “We downloaded the app the day it launched. It seemed obvious to us that it was the responsible thing to do,” she explains. “We need to contain the virus. Seems like a basic civic duty to participate in a program that could save lives.”

The COVID Alert app is an exposure notification app that tells people if they may have been exposed to COVID-19. By letting people know of possible exposures before any symptoms appear we can take care of ourselves and protect our communities. The COVID Alert app works by exchanging ‘codes’ with nearby phones that also have the app downloaded via Bluetooth. The app works in the background and is ‘always on’. Every day, it checks a list of random codes from people who tell the app they tested positive. If you’ve been near one of those codes in the past 14 days, you’ll get a notification.

While there’s been some confusion in how the COVID Alert app works, and what information is being gathered, users can rest assured that privacy is protected. COVID Alert does not use GPS or track your location. It has no way of knowing: your location, your name or address, your phone’s contacts, your health information, the health information of anyone you’re near. Nobody will get any information about you or the time you were near them. 

The COVID Alert app is currently available in the following provinces: Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, and Saskatchewan but will be rolling out across the country in every province. By October 12th, Health Canada anticipates that Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island will be launched.

This means that the COVID Alert App will soon be fully functional for almost 75% of the Canadian population, with the remaining provinces expected to be on board in the coming weeks.

For Alison and her team, the COVID Alert app was another tool in their belt as they worked to keep customers and employees safe. Alison states: “[We] thought it would be an important tool as we work with the public and have been trying hard to do everything as responsibly as possible. We do not want to be part of the problem. The staff is taking a risk coming back to work, so we need to do as much as possible to protect them as well as our customers. It’s the responsible thing to do.”

As Alison knows, it can be a, frankly, scary thing to wake up to an exposure alert, but as the old saying goes ‘better safe than sorry’. Operating a restaurant means that Alison and her team are in contact with many members of the public and ensuring they’re as safe as possible is essential. 

After receiving the exposure alert, Alison and Sunny quickly made the decision to close up shop and got tested at an assessment centre right away. They waited for their results – which thankfully came back negative, then deep cleaned the restaurant before reopening. 

In Alison’s experience, being able to make decisions that could potentially keep staff and other guests healthy would not have been possible without COVID Alert. “I’m very grateful we have the app. We would never have known about our possible exposure without it,” Alison elaborates. “If we’re going to get a handle on this disease we need all the tools we can get in order to contain it”

Alison continues: “…It’s essential we do everything we can to do our part in preventing the spread of the virus. We’ve limited our seatings to 90 minutes, our tables are properly spaced to ensure reduced risk of exposure, but our staff [still take a risk]. Any tool that can help us know of any potential exposure is invaluable.” 

Alison believes that restaurant owners, employees, and the public should all download the COVID Alert app. “Plain and simple, we need to contain the virus. It’s essential that we all try and be responsible to get it under control. We would never have known about our exposure and wouldn’t have gone to get tested that day without it” she tells MENU. “Luckily our results were negative but if we’d been positive, we never would have known and could have passed it on to others. I think it’s a really important tool.” 

To learn more about how the COVID Alert app works, head over here. Download the COVID Alert app in the App Store or Google Play.

Please note, The Walton, unfortunately, announced its last service on October 3, 2020.

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