If you want to contribute to efforts to better understand and contain the COVID-19 pandemic, and you’re based in the U.S., you can do a lot with very little effort by downloading a free iOS and Google Play application called simply COVID Symptom Tracker. The app was originally developed in partnership with food science startup Zoe and released first in the U.K.; it was quickly downloaded by nearly one million people in its first day of availability.
The app aims to supplement information provided by testing programs and other public measures of the spread of the coronavirus using self-reported information provided by individuals. It includes a self-reporting quiz that takes roughly one minute per day to complete, and also provides an estimated picture of the potential spread of the virus in your immediate area.
There are a number of different, similar efforts to use self-reported information as a signal in determining the full spread of the virus, in the absence of plentiful, accurate and consistent testing across geographies. One other high-profile project, founded by Pinterest CEO and co-founder Ben Silbermann, launched earlier this month, and offers a similar self-reporting mechanism, for similar purposes — with a mandate of offering up information shared with research partners and health organizations.
The COVID-19 Symptom Tracker has the advantage of already having been used at scale in the U.K., and the information it’s gathering will be used in a study that’s already in progress, led by King’s College epidemiologist Tim Spector, along with Harvard Medical School professor and infectious disease specialist Andrew Chan. The research team is providing regular updates about their work and the project via a public blog, too.
The goals of the research resulting from the app include forming a better understanding of COVID-19 symptoms, and how they might cluster, as well as helping identify high-risk and high-spread areas, and figuring out who might be most at risk in the future. Data shared by individuals is protected under GDPR, and it’s used strictly for nonprofit purposes, with any commercial purposes off the table. The group behind the app also advises that while they may share information more broadly with other medical researchers, it strips the data of any potential identifying information before doing so.
These efforts can definitely contribute to a better understanding of COVID-19 and its transmission, and because they’re relatively low-lift in terms of how much time you need to spend with them, it’s probably worth considering using more than one. Sensitivities around sharing info are always going to vary, of course, but if you’re okay with the trade-offs outlined, this does seem like an easy way to do something from the comfort and safety of your own home.