No Cork cases from Covid App: Cork public health doctor critical of highly-publicised tracker

No Cork cases from Covid App: Cork public health doctor critical of highly-publicised tracker

The Covid-19 tracker app was introduced last year with the aim of supporting public health departments to identify Covid-19 cases and outbreaks, and alert people if they had been deemed a close contact and were in need of testing.

A Cork public health doctor said she was not aware of a single case of Covid-19, among the 26,000 cases that have occurred in Cork and Kerry since March 2020, where the Covid-19 tracker app led to detection.

Mary O’Mahony, public health specialist for HSE South, has been working on the frontline of Ireland’s fight against Covid-19 since the virus arrived here last year.

The Covid-19 tracker app was introduced last year with the aim of supporting public health departments to identify Covid-19 cases and outbreaks, and alert people if they had been deemed a close contact and were in need of testing.

However, speaking to The Echo, Dr O’Mahony said that the app had not been helpful to the cause.

“As a public health physician working at the frontline of the Covid-19 response in Ireland, my colleagues and I have found some national interventions have not been helpful." 

She revealed that the public health team in Cork/Kerry was not aware of a single case of Covid-19 where the Covid-19 tracker app led to detection.

“One positive case — the only known case in over 26,000 cases in HSE South — who had been identified by the Covid-19 tracker app, had been identified already on the contact tracing call as a close contact through normal contact tracing,” she stated.

In fact, Dr O’Mahony said that, in many cases, the Covid-19 tracker app led to more questions than it answered.

“The Covid-19 tracker app led to additional queries to the Department of Public Health from persons notified by the app that they were a close contact of a confirmed case when they believed they could not be.

“In many cases, public health risk assessment could confirm that the caller was not a close contact in need of quarantine and testing," she said. 

“In other cases, through investigation, public health was able to confirm the index [initial] case and confirm that the caller was indeed not a close contact.”

Contact in adjoining apartment 

In one such case, a teacher contacted public health after being informed by the app that they were a close contact.

Upon investigation, the public health team discovered the initial case was actually in an adjoining apartment and, therefore, the person in question was not a close contact.

“As the ‘close contact’ was a teacher, identification of the index case was needed to rule out a school incident,” Dr O’Mahony explained.

The HSE and Department of Health were contacted for comment.

HSE response 

The HSE said: “The Covid tracker app has been downloaded approximately 2.2m times. Covid Tracker has received over 2.5m app registrations and we estimate that we have 1.3m active users.

“Covid Tracker was contributed to the Linux Foundation Public Health project and is being used by 10 public health authorities across Europe, North America and New Zealand, with downloads exceeding 8m. People using Covid Tracker have checked in using Covid check-in nearly 50m times.

“Over 14k people have tested positive for Covid-19 and uploaded random IDs; an estimated 30k people have been alerted by the app as close contacts.

“The design of the app prioritised privacy for Covid Tracker users, as a result there is no accurate way to measure the number of users of Covid Tracker.

“In addition the metrics collected by App Store and Play Store are estimates. The information provided is calculated based on users who share metrics with both platforms. A description of the data provided can be found below, with details relating to its source, method for calculation, and caveats relating to accuracy.”

Statistics provided by the HSE:

Total downloads: ~2.2m

Active users: Approx ~1.3m

Total Covid check-ins: ~50m

Total registrations: ~2.5m

Uploads: ~14k

Close contact alerts: ~30k

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