As Alberta’s active COVID-19 case numbers continue to soar and contact tracers are overwhelmed, more people are pressing the province to adopt the federal tracing app.

The provincial government developed its TraceTogether app in the spring, saying it would eventually switch over when the federal app was available this summer but now Alberta’s premier says the province may not adopt the federal version, though some people are urging him to reconsider.  

“Frankly I’m just trying to save lives,” said Ziad Fazel, a Calgary engineer who took it upon himself to research both apps.

“We have over 50 per cent unknown origins for our infections. How long can this go on?”

Fazel created a presentation on the comparison and posted it online where it had been viewed more than 40,000 times in less than two weeks.

Alberta says its method is better because contact tracers personally connect with people.

“It enables health officials directly to engage with those at risk,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney during a Nov. 6 press conference.

But critics say that makes it slower.

Both apps use Bluetooth to detect nearby devices. The independently-run federal app provides anonymous electronic notifications to anyone who may have been exposed.

“Instantly. Whether there’s five people I contacted or 5,000 people,” said Fazel, adding it also works with people from other provinces.

Since Alberta’s app relies on contact tracers to call people who may have been exposed, it takes several days.

Also, Alberta’s contact tracers have been so overwhelmed lately the province has switched to only contacting those deemed at highest risk of a poor health outcome.

Another concern critics have pointed out is that less than five per cent of Alberta’s population has downloaded TraceTogether, and some of them may have since deleted the app.

Alberta’s app also only connects certain devices, whereas the federal app works between all Androids and iPhones.

Eight other provinces have adopted the federal app.

Some say Alberta announcing it won’t switch doesn't help the government’s credibility.

“The initial response was a partisan attack, Jason Nixon mocked it as the Trudeau app,” said Duane Bratt a policy studies professor at Mount Royal University.

The premier has said the decision is not political.

Fazel says it does not seem to be based on which app is proving the most effective contact tracing. He said Alberta should stop risking lives and adopt the federal app.

“There is no reason we can’t have both, and there is no development required for Alberta to use the federal app,” he said.

The province disagrees, saying that the federal government would make Alberta decommission its own app.

The chief of Calgary’s emergency management agency and a group of doctors has also urged the provincial government on social media to adopt the federal app.

I am not sure how hard we need to be hit by #COVID19 to realize we should be allowed to use this app in #Alberta pic.twitter.com/Ag1ey2zXgJ

— Tom Sampson (@iceTyyc) October 26, 2020