The COVID Symptom Tracker was launched in the U.K. on March 24th and became available in the U.S. on March 29th, and has been used by more than three million people. Early use of the app has generated valuable data about COVID-19 for physicians, scientists, and public officials to better fight the viral outbreak. "The app collects daily information from individuals in the community about whether they feel well, and if not, their specific symptoms and if they have been tested for COVID-19," says senior author Andrew T. Chan, MD, Ph.D., Chief of the Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Director of Cancer Epidemiology at the MGH Cancer Center. "This work has led to the development of accurate models of COVID-19 infection rates in the absence of sufficient population testing. For example, the U.K. government has acted upon these estimates by providing advanced notice to local health authorities about when to expect a surge of cases."
The app does not have any contact tracing function in contrast with software that is being rolled out in the future by some states in collaboration with Apple and Google. "Our app is designed to be entirely voluntary so that they can share information about how they are feeling in a way that safeguards their privacy," Chan added. The team is asking individuals, even those who are feeling well, to download the app and participate in this effort to provide critically valuable information related to COVID-19. The study was conducted by a team led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), King's College London, and Zoe Global Ltd.
Tracking The COVID-19 Pandemic With An App
Another new app - developed through an unusual partnership - empowers nearly anyone in the United States to share their health status. Since How We Feel’s debut in May, nearly 150,000 people across the country have begun checking in daily to report which, if any, symptoms they have. Each submission is linked to a zip code, but no identifying information is collected. With this geographic information, public health agencies can track the pandemic locally. The nonprofit How We Feel Project administers the app and on April 20, 2020, the state of Connecticut became the first state to sign on. Collaborations with several other states are under discussion. “We tried to keep the app very simple, and we are very serious about users’ privacy,” says Feng Zhang, one of the app’s developers and an investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the Broad Institute and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. How We Feel is one of several COVID-related projects Zhang has taken on.
The idea for How We Feel was born in mid-March, when it had become clear that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was circulating within the United States, but testing to confirm infections remained limited. Zhang and a colleague at the University of Pennsylvania, Ophir Shalem, wondered if they could use a phone app to collect information on the next best thing: symptoms likely caused by infections. “We thought if we can develop something that attracts a lot of users, we can start to get a sense for how widespread the virus is and provide that information to people who can use it,” Zhang added.
Their app currently asks users to check in daily to answer a handful of questions about how they feel, any symptoms, their household, and their behavior. This data is aggregated and then shared with researchers and public health agencies. Since the How We Feel app’s debut this month, nearly 150,000 people across the U.S. have begun checking in daily. The project now has more than a dozen scientific collaborators from fields including epidemiology, computational biology, and global health.
Coronavirus Census Collective
With enough participation within an area, the data could potentially reveal emerging clusters of infections not detected by testing. Such an outbreak could show up as a spike in local users reporting combinations of COVID-19 symptoms such as dry cough, fever, and loss of smell. Researchers elsewhere in the world have launched similar efforts. Such surveys are not intended to replace testing people for SARS-CoV-2, according to Eran Segal, a computational biologist at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science. However, these questionnaires are the only tool that can present a general picture of the virus’s outbreak across the country. Segal, creator of Israel's Predict-Corona app, is working with Zhang to organize the Coronavirus Census Collective, an effort to set international standards and encourage collaboration that so far has 11 members. Another of Zhang’s COVID-related projects grew out of his original research. His lab had already developed a rapid and inexpensive way to detect viral RNA, like that of Zika or Dengue, in blood or urine. Earlier this year, he adapted this approach to detect SARS-CoV-2 and offered the research protocol openly to other labs. His group has so far sent out materials for more than 4,000 of these SARS-CoV-2 tests to labs around the world, a number of which have used it successfully to detect the novel coronavirus.
The need to reduce transmission of the virus has forced Zhang and his lab group, like many other scientists, to work mostly remotely. Now, the only lab-based experiments his team does are focused on SARS-CoV-2. He says the scientific community has massively mobilized to address the pandemic. Researchers are now working to scale up and fully validate the test. “We want to make the reaction so easy to use that someone could do the test in their home to monitor themselves for infection,” Zhang added. “This viral outbreak has really brought everyone together. Everybody wants to do something to help and everyone is putting their brains together to come up with solutions.”
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With over 30 years of writing and editing experience for newspapers, magazines and corporate communications, Kevin Kerfoot writes about natural health, nutrition, skincare and oral hygiene for Trusted Health Products’ natural health blog and newsletters.
Founder Ray Spotts has a passion for all things natural and has made a life study of nature as it relates to health and well-being. Ray became a forerunner bringing products to market that are extraordinarily effective and free from potentially harmful chemicals and additives. For this reason Ray formed Trusted Health Products, a company you can trust for clean, effective, and healthy products. Ray is an organic gardener, likes fishing, hiking, and teaching and mentoring people to start new businesses. You can get his book for free, “How To Succeed In Business Based On God’s Word,” at www.rayspotts.com.