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COVID-19 Exposure Notification App Advisory Council

From: Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians have been following public health advice and staying at home as much as possible to help prevent the spread of the virus. However, it is still important to remember that undetected cases of COVID-19 continue to circulate. It is crucial Canadians continue to take action against the virus to support the ongoing reopening of the economy and broader society. To help Canadians monitor their exposure to COVID-19, the Government of Canada has developed a nation-wide mobile app, COVID Alert.

The Government has named the COVID-19 Exposure Notification App Advisory Council that will ensure the app meets the highest standards in public health outcomes, technology, and privacy. The Council includes people with various expertise and perspectives including health, privacy, data governance, science, and innovation. Council members also reflect Canada's cultural diversity.

The Council has now completed its first interim report on the COVID Alert app, which is available for viewing. The report focuses on the social and economic determinants of app adoption, retention and use.

Meetings

March 29 meeting – High-level summary (coming soon)
March 12 meeting – High-level summary (coming soon)
February 22, 2021 — High-level summary

Meeting of Canada's Advisory Council on COVID Alert

Date: February 22, 2021
Time: 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. (ET)
Location: Videoconference

Summary

The tenth meeting of the COVID Alert Advisory Council continued discussions on Pillar 2 - COVID Alert as a Government Service.  The meeting focused on One-Time-Key (OTK) distribution, and included a presentation on QR codes as well as an overview of QR code functionality that will enhance COVID Alert's contact tracing capability while maintaining user privacy.

Agenda

  1. Opening Remarks

    Senior officials from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) and Health Canada (HC) welcomed and thanked Council members. Officials reiterated the importance of aggregate metrics as well as the continued engagement with provincial and territorial governments (PTs) to streamline the distribution and usage of OTKs. Officials noted the recent experience of Newfoundland and Labrador in expanding their communications approach on social media regarding the importance of downloading the app and entering OTKs. This approach yielded positive results during the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

  2. Pillar 2: General Updates on COVID Alert

    Officials from HC provided Council with a status update on engagements with PTs on streamlining OTK distribution to users, including:

    • the usage of SMS messages; and,
    • harmonizing scripts for public health workers to provide OTKs to test-positive users during contact tracing interactions.

    Council members discussed issues that could possibly hinder or assist in OTK distribution, notably as new variants and pockets of escalating caseloads are being observed across the country. The Council recommended that the Government of Canada consider viable options to ensure all positive cases are systematically provided with an OTK to enter into the app.

  3. Pillar 2: Presentation on New App Functionalities and Features

    HC officials provided the Council with an overview of a workplan on QR Code implementation, and discussed the important complementary role that QR codes can play to assist efforts in contact tracing. Officials also noted international engagements on best practices with countries that have experienced success with QR codes within their respective exposure notification apps. Initial feedback on QR code implementation from Canadian business organizations and industry associations has been favourable.

    Following a presentation on QR codes, the Council discussed the possibility for QR codes to augment or replace manual contact tracing while simultaneously ensuring the app remains voluntary. It was noted that QR Code implementation discussions are continuing across Canada, and a phased approach is expected.

  4. Conclusion of Meeting

    HC officials thanked the Council for their continued engagement and insight. The meeting concluded with Council re-iterating their recommendation that the Government of Canada, along with their provincial and territorial partners, urgently explore solutions to ensure OTKs are provided to all positive cases at the time of diagnosis.

January 21, 2021 — High-level summary

Meeting of Canada's Advisory Council on COVID Alert

Date: January 21, 2021
Time: 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.. (EST)
Location: Videoconference

Summary

The ninth meeting of Canada's COVID Alert App Advisory Council focused on Pillar 2 - COVID Alert as a Government Service. The meeting launched discussions on optimization of one-time key (OTK) distribution and QR codes followed by an update for council members on in-app metrics and additional languages to be added to the app.

Agenda

  1. Opening remarks

    Senior officials from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) and Health Canada (HC) welcomed participants and noted that the first interim report by the advisory council will be posted on the council's website in the upcoming weeks. Officials highlighted the importance of the interim report as a tool for communicating the council's advice to the government and for demonstrating transparency to Canadians regarding the council's work on COVID Alert.

  2. General updates on COVID Alert

    Canadian Digital Service (CDS) provided an update on recent minor changes within the app such as:

    • new screens and instructions for users who entered a one-time key but have not yet shared their exposures, and
    • the ability to notify people of multiple exposures.
  3. New features and functionalities

    One-time keys

    HC gave an overview of current processes for OTK distribution and reminded the council that each province and territory has its own distribution system.  The council was presented with options for optimizing OTK distribution that could be considered for discussion.

    The council discussed additional ways to increase the public's understanding of the importance of requesting an OTK from the public health unit if one is not offered when a positive diagnosis is communicated as well as the importance of entering OTKs into COVID Alert. Council members highlighted the need for provinces and territories to ensure easy and timely access to OTKs for positive cases and the need to prioritize the review of existing processes.  Council members also raise the importance of ongoing communications and marketing, at both the federal and provincial/territorial level, so Canadians use the app to its fullest potential as a means to provide exposure notifications by entering OTKs. Council members will be provided with additional data on OTKs in order to support the council's further advice on the optimization of OTKs.

    QR codes

    HC presented a proposal for using QR codes to enable faster, more efficient location-based services while respecting the privacy of users. HC shared information on discussions with the United Kingdom and New Zealand, both of which have implemented QR codes to support safe reopening of their respective economies. The council discussed how this new feature would be more effective at safeguarding the privacy of Canadians than the current practice of businesses using physical media to record the names and phone numbers of their patrons. Using QR codes would also enhance the efficacy of contact tracing procedures within public health units.

    In-app metrics and additional languages

    HC quickly provided an update on in-app metrics to be collected by COVID Alert and on additional languages that will be added to the app to increase accessibility.

  4. Closing remarks

    HC officials closed the meeting by thanking the advisory council for its feedback and committing to provide council members with additional information on OTK distribution processes as well as QR code functionality as it continues to be further developed.  

January 13, 2021 — High-level summary

Meeting of Canada's Advisory Council on COVID Alert

Date: January 13, 2021
Time: 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. (EST)
Location: Videoconference

Summary

The eighth meeting of Canada's COVID Alert App Advisory Council focused on integrating feedback and obtaining approval from council members on the draft interim report on Pillar 1 of the advisory council's work plan: Social and Economic Determinants of App Adoption, Retention and Use.

Agenda

  1. Opening remarks

    Senior officials from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) and Health Canada (HC) welcomed council members and thanked them for reviewing the first draft of the interim report and providing comments and feedback.

    Interim report – Social and Economic Determinants of App Adoption, Retention and Use

    The co-chairs provided an overview of the council's feedback on the report and sought consensus toward its finalization. Council members were invited to share their views.

    Council members noted that they were pleased with the work that had gone into the report but asked for some additional time to review the latest changes. As a result, the interim report is expected to be finalized once this final review is complete.

    Additional discussion points included the insertion of additional language to clarify the role and scope of the council's advice, a request to investigate benchmarking COVID Alert download metrics relative to COVID-19 cases within an on-boarded province or territory, and a request for clarification on the usability of the app for specific phone manufacturers and their related third-party app stores.

  2. Pillar 2 (COVID Alert as a Government Service) – Update on additional in-app metrics to better assess effectiveness of the app

    HC representatives presented the council with a draft communications rollout plan regarding a future update of the COVID Alert app, which will enhance the Government of Canada's ability to evaluate the effectiveness of the app by collecting additional in-app metrics. HC restated that these additional metrics would not affect the privacy of users or collect any personally identifiable information and that the collection of these metrics would be at an aggregated level. Accordingly, HC officials noted proactive engagement with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, which raised no privacy-related concerns with the proposed metrics or their handling and use.

    Representatives from HC also provided an overview of the key messages and the approach to communicating the changes. This includes social media messaging, announcement details, integration with the upcoming COVID Alert Theme Day, and an overview of engagements with various federal, provincial and territorial privacy commissioners.

    HC representatives expressed to council the importance of communicating effectively to Canadians any changes to the metrics being collected in support of the COVID Alert app, considering the importance of reassuring Canadians that their privacy is protected.

    Overall, council members again agreed on the principle of collecting additional metrics to permit the Government of Canada to better evaluate the app's effectiveness.

    Several council members raised the importance of engaging focus groups on the messaging related to in-app metric collection and, in particular, engaging with communities that may want to better understand the objectives of data collection efforts.

  3. Conclusion of Meeting

    HC officials thanked council members for providing their thoughtful insight and expert advice, and they committed to finalizing the interim report based on final feedback received by the council. The council was invited to submit final comments and approval by mid-January for publication of the interim report in late January.

December 18, 2020 — High-level summary

Meeting of Canada's Advisory Council on COVID Alert

Date: December 18, 2020
Time: 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. (EST)
Location: Videoconference

Summary

The seventh meeting of the COVID Alert Advisory Council focused on receiving feedback from Council Members on the Draft Interim Report on Pillar 1 of the Advisory Council's work plan: Social and Economic Determinants of App Adoption, Retention and Use.

Agenda

  1. Opening remarks

    Senior officials from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) and Health Canada (HC) welcomed Council members and thanked them for their engagement and expert advice in informing the Government of Canada's efforts to promote the COVID Alert app.

  2. Interim Report – Social and Economic Determinants of App Adoption, Retention and Use

    One co-chair provided an overview of the report, speaking to the content of each section, and provided remarks and insight regarding the structure, narrative, and Council's advice. Council members were invited to share their views and initial reactions.

    Council members provided initial feedback to the Report, including: editorial changes, language and clarification of terminology inclusion of a foreword by co-chairs; and additional context and positioning regarding certain sections of the Report, including app downloads and One-Time Key (OTK) usage.

  3. Theme Day

    Council members were provided with a brief description of the national COVID Alert "Theme Day" media and communications event currently planned for early 2021.

  4. Conclusion of Meeting

    HC officials thanked Council members for providing their thoughtful insight and expert advice, and committed to revising the interim report based on feedback received during the meeting. Council members were invited to submit additional feedback over the next week. A revised Interim Report will be circulated to Council members for final approval by mid-January.

December 10, 2020 — High-level summary

Meeting of Canada's Advisory Council on COVID Alert

Date: December 10, 2020
Time: 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. (ET)
Location: Videoconference

Summary

The sixth meeting of the COVID Alert Advisory Council provided Council members with an update on metrics and data related to the efficacy of the COVID Alert app. A discussion followed on considerations and options regarding collecting additional metrics.

Agenda

  1. Opening remarks

    Senior officials from Health Canada (HC) opened the meeting by welcoming Council Members and thanking them for their participation in this intersessional Council Meeting.

  2. Metrics and Approach

    A representative from HC provided insight on additional metrics that the Government of Canada is examining in addition to currently collected information on the total number of downloads and total number of one-time keys (OTKs). The additional metrics being considered would enable the Government of Canada to better monitor the effectiveness of the app and encourage uptake, and in particular be able to assess the number of notifications sent following the entry of OTKs.

    HC representatives explained that additional metrics would not affect the privacy of users or collect any personally identifiable information, and that collection of these metrics would be at an aggregated level. HC officials emphasized the importance of communicating effectively to Canadians any future changes to the metrics being collected in support of the  COVID Alert app, as there remains a risk of negative impact and perception from Canadians concerning the protection of their privacy. Officials further noted that there has been proactive engagement with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner on these additional metrics.

  3. New Functionalities and Features

    Following the presentation, Council members were invited to discuss and provide comments and feedback. Overall, Council members were supportive of collecting metrics that will enable the Government of Canada to better assess the app's effectiveness, noting the importance of a communications strategy to communicate any changes to the collection of metrics of the COVID Alert app in a clear, concise, and easy to understand manner that will maintain trust and assure Canadians regarding their privacy protections.

    Council members observed that increased data collection might discourage uptake by Canadians who are already concerned over issues of surveillance. Some Council members recommended that the Government of Canada carefully consider the perceived impact to user privacy against the associated benefits of collecting additional metrics.

  4. Closing remarks

    Senior Government officials thanked the Council for their feedback and active engagement, and welcomed further input as they continue to be engaged on this topic. Council members were reminded that their next meeting would focus on discussing the Council's first interim report.

December 2, 2020 — High-level summary

Meeting of Canada's Advisory Council on COVID Alert

Date: December 2, 2020
Time: 2:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. (ET)
Location: Videoconference

Summary

The fifth meeting of the COVID Alert Advisory Council provided an update on follow-up actions discussed at the November 13 meeting in order to close the discussion on "Social and Economic Determinants of app adoption, retention and use". The meeting also launched the discussion of "COVID Alert as a Government Service", including a discussion of new app functionalities and features as well as the optimization of one-time key (OTK) distribution.

Agenda

  1. Opening remarks

    Senior officials from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) and Health Canada (HC) welcomed and thanked members. Officials reiterated the importance of the COVID Alert app and the ongoing work and advice of the Advisory Council as Canada moves towards the deployment of the vaccine and the eventual recovery of social and economic activities.

  2. Conclusion of Discussion: Social/Economic determinants of app adoption, retention, and use

    A representative from HC provided an update on follow-up actions discussed at the November 13 meeting, including: baseline and incremental rates of adoption; worker concerns and related policies; Indigenous Peoples and communities; and racialized communities.

    A Co-Chair advised Council members to deliberate on how the COVID Alert app could be optimized and promoted as a tool to support Canada as we transition to the deployment of vaccines.

  3. New Functionalities and Features

    A representative from the Canadian Digital Service (CDS) provided details on two new app features for planned integration over the coming weeks: the ability to turn the app on and off for workers in high-risk situations who wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment; and the ability to clear the exposed state notification following a negative test result in order to be able to get new exposed notifications.

    A HC representative further noted ongoing engagement with CDS to consider various measures that could be considered to increase the accessibility of the app and expand its scope.

    The two measures discussed included: exploring languages, in addition to English and French, that could be added to the App; and the potential use of Quick Response (QR) codes to generate a user-controlled and managed digital log of user location history -- contained exclusively on a user's device --  to: 1) notify a user of a possible exposure from a public health unit-identified cluster outbreak, and 2) serve as a memory aid in any contact tracing discussions with a public health official following a user's positive Covid diagnosis.

  4. Optimization of the Distribution of One-Time Keys (OTKs)

    A HC representative provided an overview of ongoing discussions with on-boarded provincial jurisdictions to map out their processes and best practices regarding the distribution of OTKs. Secretariat officials asked Council Members to reflect on broader actions that could facilitate easier or streamlined methods of obtaining OTKs.

    A discussion followed regarding OTK issuance. Discussion points included: sending SMS messages to users who test positive with a link that enables them to generate a OTK and related privacy considerations; jurisdictional considerations on health data; OTK issuance that reduces pressure on the public health system; and Google/Apple Exposure Notification framework requirements for checks and balances related to OTK issuance.

  5. Closing remarks

    HC and ISED officials summarized the key discussion points and noted the intention to circulate a draft interim report on amongst Council members for review and input.

November 13, 2020 — High-level summary

Meeting of Canada's COVID Alert App Advisory Council

Date: November 13, 2020
Time: 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. (ET)
Location: Videoconference

Summary

The fourth meeting of Canada's COVID Alert App Advisory Council focused on identifying strategies to reduce barriers to the adoption, retention and proper use of COVID Alert, recognizing that some Canadians remain unaware of the app and its benefits.

Agenda

  1. Opening remarks

    Senior officials from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) and Health Canada (HC) welcomed the participants and provided a recap of recent considerations related to the app, including accessibility, acceptability, measurement data, and emerging technologies that could be compatible with COVID Alert or represent additional options in the longer term.

  2. Setting the stage for discussion

    HC offered an overview of its next phase of marketing and outreach activities, including targeting young demographics via social media apps and appealing to notable Canadians, celebrities, influencers, and organizations and businesses that could act as ambassadors for the app. HC added that, in support of these efforts, it has established a working group of behavioural scientists and other collaborators to build a better understanding of why some people are not downloading the app and to determine how best to promote its benefits and the use of one-time keys (OTKs) upon receipt of a positive test result.

  3. Identification of strategies to reduce barriers to adoption, retention and proper use

    Council members discussed strategies to build on HC's marketing and outreach activities, such as identifying additional community leaders and influencers, for example, within Indigenous communities; targeting demographic groups that may not be downloading the app; increasing the visibility of federal, provincial and territorial policies in place to support Canadians who receive an exposure notification and are encouraged to get tested and self-isolate; discussing value-added information for app users who register a positive test result; developing focused strategies for Indigenous, low-income or racialized communities, as well as communities with clusters of positive cases; and emphasizing the importance of public messaging on the role that COVID Alert plays, in tandem with other tools, in helping fight COVID-19.

    In addition, council members discussed approaches that could be considered to more effectively measure and demonstrate the impact of the app on public health, which will be the focus of more in-depth discussions at future meetings.

  4. Closing remarks

    HC and ISED summarized the key discussion points and the steps required to support the Council's next meeting. The members were invited to prepare for future discussions, which will focus on COVID Alert as a government service to Canadians. On this topic, thought will be given to how the app could be continuously optimized and could be adapted for future purposes, including, for example, to support the gradual resumption of social and economic activities as vaccines are made available across Canada.

October 30, 2020 — High-level summary

Meeting of Canada's Advisory Council on COVID Alert

Date: October 30, 2020
Time: 12:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. (ET)
Location: Videoconference

Summary

The third meeting of Canada's Advisory Council on COVID Alert was a focused discussion on strategies to increase the accessibility of the COVID Alert app to vulnerable populations across Canada.

Agenda

  1. Opening Remarks

    Senior officials from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) and Health Canada welcomed and thanked members, and indicated their keen interest and support in Council's engagement on the first pillar of the work plan that focuses on the social and economic barriers to COVID Alert adoption, retention, and usage.

    A representative from ISED provided an overview of recent developments and presented the critical path forward for the Advisory Council to address the core pillars of the work plan over the next series of meetings.

  2. Setting the Stage for Discussion

    A representative from the Canadian Digital Service (CDS) provided an overview of the technical features and/or updates confirmed, planned or being assessed for the COVID Alert app.

    Council members expressed support for the recent release of the updated notification exposure window, and recommended that CDS consider a broad range of implications when implementing or considering new features.

  3. Identification of Strategies to Increase Accessibility for Specific Populations

    A detailed overview of the work plan and discussion paper was provided. The discussion paper was focused on the first topic within the first pillar of the work plan, and addressed the accessibility of the COVID Alert app for specific populations. The co-chair thanked Council members for their input into the work plan, and recognized the need to continually engage all Council members across all three pillars to ensure that the app meets the highest standards within the realms of public health, technology, privacy and security.

    A discussion followed that considered various options, strategies and models to increase the awareness of the COVID Alert and address issues of accessibility, including: engagement of communities through community development initiatives; targeting engagement on a priority basis to communities where outbreaks are prevalent; segmentation of vulnerable populations into targeted subgroups, and strategies for engaging each subgroup; and various public health measures and tools that could be leveraged in support of the COVID Alert app.

  4. Closing remarks

    Summary of the key discussion points as a basis for further discussion at Council's next meeting, which will focus on app adoption, retention and use.

September 22, 2020 — High-level summary

Meeting of Canada's COVID-19 Exposure Notification App Advisory Council

Date: September 22, 2020
Time: 10:30 a.m. to noon (ET)
Location: Videoconference

Summary

The second meeting of Canada's COVID-19 Exposure Notification App Advisory Council briefly touched on advancements in, and uptake of, the app since its launch, followed by a focused discussion on the specific framework that the council will adopt to guide meaningful and effective advice to support the continued development and implementation of COVID Alert.

Agenda

  1. Opening remarks

    Representatives from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and Health Canada welcomed council members and thanked them for their participation in the technical briefings on four key elements: digital, privacy, security, and public health and measurement.

  2. Looking back: Results achieved to date

    Representatives from the Canadian Digital Service and Health Canada provided updates on the onboarding of provinces and territories, marketing strategies, active engagements, user uptake, and the development of potential new features. Members of the advisory council highlighted the importance of outreach and engagement with younger demographics.

  3. Looking forward: Focus and role of the council

    Health Canada representatives presented a proposed framework and work plan that aimed to guide the advice and work objectives for the council. This was followed by a discussion led by the co-chairs. Members of the advisory council discussed the work plan and provided recommendations. Other topics raised included measuring the impact of the app on public health workload systems and dealing with barriers to user adoption.

  4. Closing remarks

    Discussion on the advisory council's critical path.

August 5, 2020 — High-level summary

Meeting of Canada's Advisory Council on COVID Alert

Date: August 5, 2020
Time: 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. (ET)
Location: Videoconference

Summary

The first meeting of Canada's Advisory Council on COVID Alert centred on a review of the council's Terms of Reference, introductory member remarks, an overview of the application and an initial discussion on how to encourage uptake.

Agenda

  1. Opening remarks and council function

    Simon Kennedy, Deputy Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, and Stephen Lucas, Deputy Minister of Health, welcomed members and noted that the function of the advisory council is to ensure that the COVID Alert app meets the highest standards in terms of public health outcomes, technology and privacy.

  2. Co-chair and member introductions

    Co-chairs Jean-François Gagné, Founder of ElementAI, and Carole Piovesan, Co-Founder of INQ Data Law, provided initial remarks. Council members then introduced themselves and highlighted the perspectives they bring to the table.

  3. Overview of app

    Government of Canada officials from the Canadian Digital Service and Health Canada provided an overview of the app, including technical specifications and the user interface.

  4. Delivering a world-class service to Canadians

    The council raised initial considerations on how to ensure the COVID Alert app meets the highest standards for Canadians, including a positive user experience from end to end, to help drive adoption rates in support of the ongoing reopening of the economy and broader society.

  5. Closing remarks

    Discussion on next steps and organizational work of the advisory council.

Associated link

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