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COVID Alert Portal

Curbing COVID in Canada

Between June 2020 and January 2021, I was Tech Lead for the COVID Alert Portal: the hippest government-provided cost-free solution this side of the Rideau river. Whereas the COVID Alert app is generally available to conscientious canucks, the Portal allows healthcare workers to generate one-time keys for diagnosed patients.

It’s built as a fun open-source Django app deployed on an AWS backend (less fun), with an automated testing and deployment pipeline. The Portal’s behaviour is more commodified than other parts of the system, so choosing the well-understood Django framework allowed us to get going quickly and build sustainably as we rapidly developed our MVP over a few hectic weeks. With the time we saved, we freed the team up to work on higher-level problems, like robust test cases, reusable infrastructure, and our security processes.

The Portal makes up a small but important part of the holistic COVID Alert ecosystem:

  • the app is user-facing: it keeps track of nearby devices for 14 days, and looks for matching devices stored on the server.
  • the server is owned by CDS: it stores random IDs uploaded by diagnosed patients who have been given one-time keys.
  • the portal is for healthcare workers: it generates one-time keys that diagnosed patients can use to upload their data.

The Portal went into production for Ontario on August 14, 2020, and continues to onboard new provinces — each with their own operational differences. Its usage varies region-by-region, but ultimately I was responsible for delivering a service that was (and continues to be) accessible, secure, and available, while accommodating the evolving needs of our current and future users.

The COVID Alert Portal helps the healthcare workers that are helping Canadians, it was (and still is) delivered quickly and on-time using agile delivery methods, and it will keep doing what it needs to for as long as it’s needed.