Despite the urging from public health officials and politicians, the use of smartphone apps that warn people of potential exposure to COVID-19 is low in Alberta and across the rest of Canada.
Contact tracing is critical in fighting against the virus and Calgary engineer Ziad Fazel said Alberta’s tracing app, ABTraceTogether, has been a failure.
“I think the Alberta app should be thrown in the garbage and I think the province should do what was promised last summer, which is move over from the Alberta app to the federal app,” Fazel said.
The app has been under fire since it launched in May. This week, Global News reached out to Alberta Health for updated contact tracing numbers but not none were made available.
According to the most recent numbers released on Jan. 13, the app had been used to track 32 positive COVID-19 cases. As of March 18, there had been a total of 140,823 positive cases identified in Alberta.
“We’ve found out twice over the 10 months that ABTraceTogether has been in operation how many have used it to submit a log to the province,” Fazel said.
More than 300,000 people have downloaded Alberta’s contact tracing app but that does not mean all those people are using it, Fazel said.
“The Alberta app, if I download it and that’s the only number the Alberta government is releasing, it doesn’t work at contact tracing or tracking exposures, not any better than my calculator or Fruit Ninja,” he said. “The Alberta app only starts working when you register it.”
But some experts have soured on the federal contact tracing app as well. Public health data indicates three per cent of 535,000 Canadians who have tested positive for COVID-19 have used the federal COVID Alert app to warn others about exposure.
University of Calgary microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases professor Dr. Craig Jenne argues the federal app has also been ineffective at combatting the spread of the virus.
“They are essentially completely useless and that is because if you have the app installed, the odds are the person who has the virus and is going to transmit to you does not have the app, so you will never receive a notification,” Jenne said.
“This technology only works when the vast majority of the population has it.”
However, Fazel said he has been researching both apps and believes the federal app is gaining traction while Alberta’s version is slowing down.
“The Alberta app is not able to keep up, so the growth in usage of the Alberta app is not keeping up in the growth of cases in Alberta, whereas federal app the growth in its usage is outpacing the growth of the pandemic,” he said.
“There’s signs the federal app is making gains on reducing the spread from the pandemic.”
Fazel said Alberta needs an app that provides more information to its users if the province is going to make a stand against the virus.
“The federal app works and the provincial doesn’t work. It’s a no-brainer which app we should be using.”
Jenne said if the majority of Canadians were using contact tracing apps, it would make an enormous impact on the country’s battle against COVID-19.
“It would really very much enable us to safely undertake some activities while identifying rapidly potential cases, notifying people that have been exposed before they themselves become infectious and really put an end to much of the transmission that we see in the community,” he said.
— With files from Global Edmonton reporter Morgan Black