New app developed in Durham Region aims to help business owners with contact tracing

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New app helps business owners with contact tracing
A new app developed in Durham Region aims to help with contact tracing. Scanning a QR code with your phone, customers can upload their information, reducing contact with employees. Frazer Snowdon has more. – Oct 30, 2020

When it comes to managing a pandemic, one of the most important steps in keeping track of where the virus could go is contact tracing.

Now with an app called Canatrace, made by a local company in Durham Region, business owners have a little more help.

“With this program they will scan at the door and it takes them through a couple screens where they enter their information,” says Asif Khan, CEO and founder of GroundLevel Insights, who developed the app.

The idea is to give restaurant owners peace of mind when dealing with customers at the door.

“It’s really more the speed and efficiency on the door that is vital to us,” says Chris Argiro, owner of Chuuk Restaurant, a Mexican style joint in Pickering.

Argiro, like thousands of small business owners across the country, is struggling to keep his doors open as the threat of the pandemic looms over their heads. He says anything that helps them is welcome.

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“We’re all working with limited seating, so for us, it’s to get the customer seated as quickly as possible so that we can serve them,” he says.

How it works is when a business signs up for the free service is that a QR code is made to take patrons to a page with their logo. From there, they enter their information and it’s dated and time-stamped.

“If the business is contact by the local health authorities to say somebody has tested positive who was there in the past, all they have to do is call us and we’ll release the data to the public health authority.”

As it stands now, a number of businesses use pen and paper for collecting information, then possibly leaving it out for anyone to see — problem that could put the general public at risk, as well.

“What we saw was that so many businesses … were doing this with a pen and paper. You know you have guest lists at the door? It’s just inefficient, people’s data sitting out in the open.”

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The company launched the new app across Canada this week and is available to any business owner who wants to take part. Experts say any step that can be taken to streamline contact tracing could help curb the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s a good augmenter of the imperfect human memory and will allow us to identify more cases,” says Dr. Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist at University of Ottawa.

Businesses and municipalities, including Durham Region, have already gotten behind it and hope it will help with the process. However, Dr. Deonandan says if we can step it up, it could be a game changer.

“If we do backwards contact tracing, we can double or triple the number of cases we can identify and that way prevent super spreading events from causing mass transmission,” he says.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Concerns raised about contact tracing in Alberta'
COVID-19: Concerns raised about contact tracing in Alberta

In Canada, the focus for contact tracing is to track who an infected person was in contact with days before, and informing them of the potential risk of infection.

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But Deonandan says if we can back-trace using GPS technology, we could track where the virus actually originated.

“With back tracing, we get an infected person, figure out where they have been and therefore get a good idea where they were probably infected and test other people in that venue and identify other cases,” he says.

For Argiro, who has had some rough times at his Mexican restaurant, streamlining the process, he says, will hopefully put him ahead of the game.

“It’s way more efficient and it’s safer as well, so it’s a win-win there.”

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