A pilot project that will help some travellers cut down quarantine time went into effect Monday.

International travellers driving through the Coutts boarder crossing — or flying into the Calgary International Airport — can apply to forgo a 14-day quarantine period in favour of a faster COVID-19 test.

Alberta is the first province to offer the pilot program, in partnership with the federal government. Eligible travellers who have no symptoms can take a COVID-19 test to cut their quarantine period from 14 days to about 48 hours.

The Alberta government calls it an important step in Alberta’s recovery plan.

Cindy Emmerson, who works at a H.H. Smith Ltd. — a customs broker in Coutts — said she hopes the testing will help streamline things for people who are forced to go back and forth for work.

“This hopefully will help things on the business side somewhat,” she said.

At the same time, she says it’s a little concerning because of increasing COVID numbers.

“It’s a waiting it out thing, right, and we’ll have to see what happens," she said.  

At Coutts the testing appeared to be taking about 10 to 15 minutes per vehicle.

Travellers receiving the quicker test will still have to isolate until results come in, which officials say should take 24 to 48 hours. If negative, they can leave isolation with the understanding they will get tested again in six to seven days.

Coutts Mayor Jim Willett said he understands the need to revive the ailing economy but he is concerned about rising COVID-19 numbers on the U.S. side of the border.

“The situation in Montana is not really very good. It’s pretty grim down there right now,” said Willett.

According to AHS, everyone who participates in the project will be closely monitored to reduce the risk of exposing Albertans. They can’t leave Alberta for 14 days and must follow other measures.

That includes daily symptom check-ins, wearing a mask in public places and they must avoid visiting high-risk groups.

Willett points out in Coutts, where the average age is over 50, the high-risk category includes a significant part of the village.

“If we have an outbreak from that, we are going to lose some people,” he said. “So it weighs on my mind all the time.”

But Willett said on the other hand the project appears to be helping the government keep better track of where people are, and doing what they need to do to reduce the risk to others. “So that’s one thing I should feel good about," he said.

Eligible travelers arriving at the Coutts border crossing or the Calgary International Airport can register to participate in the Alberta COVID-19 Border Testing Pilot Program by first completing an online form.

Registration can be done up to five days before travellers plan to arrive.