Some Canadian researchers are using crowdsourcing technology to do this.
COVID Near You and Flatten.ca are websites that list confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases based on real-time data from people. Both sites use anonymous, self-reported symptom and test data to target potential cases or epidemics in communities.
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Tests are “badly needed” in much of Canada and the United States, said John Brownstein, director of innovation at Boston Children Hospital and professor at Harvard Medical School, making it difficult to paint a clear picture of what’s going on in the communities.
He said such technology can help fill data gaps and better inform public health entities and citizens.
“Most of the data we get for public health comes from interactions with health systems. So if you go to a doctor or if you are hospitalized, we get that information. But we do know that with COVID-19, the majority of illnesses are mild and most of these people are not tested or seen by a doctor, “he told Global News by phone.
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“We don’t have a complete picture of the disease in the community, which is important for understanding the impact, the burden of the disease, where we are on the epidemic curve, the social distancing effects – all of these things . “
COVID Near You is led by a team of epidemiologists and researchers from Harvard University and was adapted from Brownstein’s previous project, Flu Near You. Canada joined the project about a week ago.
Users are asked a simple question to get started: “How are you feeling?” If you are feeling well, you will be asked to fill out a form indicating if you have received a flu shot, with your age, gender and the first three characters of your postal code.
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Brownstein said the app uses the same type of technology security commonly used to store electronic medical record data.
“We do not ask for personal identifiers,” he said, responding to possible privacy concerns. He nodded to request only the first three digits of a person’s postal code for anonymity.
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“We do not display or share information at a level that can inversely identify someone. These are all aggregated and depersonalized data. “
If you choose “not feeling well,” you are asked to choose from a list of symptoms, including common telltale signs such as fever, shortness of breath, cough, fatigue, or pain.
Once you’ve identified your symptoms, the app will ask questions related to travel history, close contact with a confirmed case, and your isolation or quarantine.
From there, the site may ask you if you have been tested or hospitalized for COVID-19 before requesting location information.
This data is populated on an interactive map with a purple or orange dot as a marker – one for people who have reported symptoms of COVID-19, the other for people who reported having taken an official test.
Flatten.ca works the same way, but it is not the same.
The website was created by a group of Canadian engineering students who wanted to find a way to help after the pandemic suspended their school year.
Users are also asked to complete a symptom form and provide the first three digits of their postal code, which is then completed on a heat map to show the prevalence of possible cases in a community.
What separates Flatten.ca is its ability to map regions that have a “high density of potential vulnerable COVID-19 cases”, such as older Canadians or those who are immunocompromised, said student Shrey Jain University of Toronto and President and Director. from Flatten.ca. It also maps potential high-risk cases, such as an elderly person who has reported symptoms.
“Self-reporting is a way to streamline the data collection process. It’s also much faster, “he told Global News.
“It is always a good indication of where a home could be before it actually becomes. It’s like a model of early detection. But the more people who use it, the more powerful the tool becomes. “
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These types of projects are an effective way to better reflect the health and well-being of the country during COVID-19, said Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist based at Toronto General Hospital, but he cautioned against seeing these tools as final. .
There will always be an “underestimation” of the spread in certain regions, he said, so outsourced data must be considered as “complementary tools” in the global fight against the virus.
“There is no perfect monitoring tool,” he said.
“When we think about surveillance, we need to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses inherent in each tool. We cannot take any individual information in isolation. We have to put it in a larger context to really understand it better. So when we add surveillance tools together, we can get a broader picture of the disease in Canada and how it has changed over time. “
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COVID Near You and Flatten.ca strive to collaborate with other such sites to share data and ultimately extend their reach.
In just one day, the number of Canadian users of COVID Near You has grown from 40,000 to over 250,000, and is only increasing, said Brownstein. Almost half a million Americans had declared themselves on the site as of April 14.
Flatten.ca had more than 400,000 users as of April 14.
“The more submissions we receive, the higher the value of the data,” said Brownstein, adding that engaging healthy Canadians is just as important.
“We need everyone because you need a denominator. You need healthy people to understand the population of people who could be reported. “
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