How are you feeling today? Healthy, if a little more anxious than usual? Run-down? Feverish? A team of physicians and researchers are hoping you’ll take 10 seconds every day to self-report your symptoms (or lack thereof) to a new COVID Symptom Tracker app .
If enough people commit to self-reporting, the team—which includes doctors, professors and scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, King’s College London, Stanford School of Medicine and ZOE—will be better prepared to identify potential coronavirus hot spots, understand which symptoms might predict coronavirus onset, track how the virus spreads and potentially inform the healthcare system of what might be coming their way.
To quote Dr. Andrew T. Chan, physician-epidemiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and lead researcher on the project:
It is clear that symptoms of COVID-19 can vary widely, with some individuals harboring the virus with minimal symptoms or symptoms such as diarrhoea that could be mistaken for something else. We know the reality is that there is a lack of available and timely testing of COVID-19. This may be a better way to find out where hot spots of spread are, new symptoms to look out for, and use as a planning tool to target quarantines, send ventilators and medical equipment and provide real-time data to plan for future outbreaks. By also tracking in real-time the experience of health care workers, we can do a better job of understanding how to protect our first responders to this crisis.
I’ve been using the COVID Symptom Tracker app for the past few days, and it really only takes a few seconds every morning. I open the app and answer two questions: one about whether I’ve received a COVID-19 test (currently, no) and one about whether I feel healthy or am experiencing any unusual symptoms (currently, healthy).
Of course, I did have to enter a small amount of demographic information about myself before I began self-reporting—including the optional step of providing my name and phone number, in case the research team wanted to contact me for any reason—and that might make you curious about how the app is going to use your data.
The FAQ goes into more detail, but essentially your data is protected under General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which means it can only be used for the purpose to which you consent. In this case, “that means it can only be used to help medical science and healthcare providers to better understand Coronavirus.” The team may share your data, with any potentially identifying information removed, with other medical researchers—so make sure you’re okay with that before you sign up.
One more reminder: The COVID Symptom Tracker app is not a diagnostic tool, and will not be able to tell you whether you have COVID-19. It is only designed to track self-reported symptoms in the U.S. and the U.K., in an attempt to better understand the coronavirus, how it spreads and where it might spread next.