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The UK is Now Tracking Covid-19 With a Mobile App

Abigail Saltmarsh
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Nearly two million British people are now reporting their symptoms and helping to trace the virus in real-time via the COVID Symptom Tracker.

This new app aims to help slow the outbreak by learning how fast it is spreading, where the highest-risk areas are and who is most at risk. The app is now available in the US.

Part of a non-profit initiative by King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals, in partnership with health data science company ZOE, the free app was launched in the UK on March 24. It has now also been made available in the US, in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, is spearheading the project. He said:

“The app is able to capture the symptoms as they are arriving in real-time rather than waiting a few weeks or months until the crisis is past or it’s too late. The more people who use it, the better the real-time data we have to combat the crisis.”

Differences in Symptoms

Those using the app are asked to consent to a privacy policy allowing their personal health data to be shared with research institutions but not for commercial purposes. They then provide information including age, sex, height, weight, and postcode, as well as details of any chronic health conditions.

They are asked whether they have been tested for COVID-19 and about any symptoms they are experiencing and are asked to log in every day to self-report on how they are feeling. The data will reveal important information about the symptoms and progress of virus in different people, said Prof Spector, and why some go on to develop more severe or fatal disease while others have only mild symptoms. He added:

“The governmental organization SAGE and teams from the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) will be working closely with data scientists at Kings College London and infectious disease epidemiologists to truly understand which symptoms being reported are Covid-19 even if mild. They will also be working with us to understand which areas of the country need the most support including hospital space, test kits and staff.”

Vital Data From Twins

The app was initially conceived as part of the TwinsUK study, set up by Prof Spector in 1992 to investigate the genetic and environmental basis of a range of complex diseases and conditions by looking at data from identical and non-identical twins. Some 5,000 twins and their families are now using the app and will record information about their health, including temperature, tiredness and symptoms such as coughing, breathing problems or headaches.

Any of these participants showing signs of COVID-19 will be sent a home testing kit to better understand what symptoms truly correspond to the coronavirus infection. All data collected will be anonymized and made available in real-time to public health or other non-profit research institutions carrying out research on COVID-19, including the NHS. Professor

Tim Spector said:

“This is an exciting partnership between the academics and ZOE working together and showing that small groups can get things done superfast. These are worrying times for everyone. Our twins are fantastically committed, enthusiastic health research participants who have already been studied in unprecedented detail, putting us in a unique position to provide vital answers to support the global fight against Covid-19. The more of the public that now also use the app, the better the real-time data we will have to combat the outbreak in this country.”

The UK is Now Tracking Covid-19 With a Mobile App

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