University of Arizona authorities announced this week that they plan to provide a smartphone app for students and staff returning to master’s classes in the fall, enabling them to notify the school community about possible exposure to COVID-19.
The app, called Covid Watch, was developed by researchers at Stanford University and the University of Waterloo in Canada, and is designed to be an alternative to digital communication.
Covid Watch is one of the few apps available or under development to help facilitate COVID-19 distribution. Apps appear to be important to control the epidemic, while also protecting the privacy of users – which has been the main opposition from some people.
Instead of notifying top authorities about the status of CCIDID-19 exposure, Covid Watch works by alerting others who may have been exposed directly using random numbers changed by local Bluetooth signals, University of Arizona officials said.
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The system also maintains anonymity and protects their personal information, it said.
“If the screening phase goes well, we plan to launch an app for the entire campus community, and if enough people in the campus community choose to warn of their exposure and follow the general lead, public distribution can be stopped,” Joyce Schroeder, chair of the Department of Cellular and Cellular Disease at the University of Arizona , the statement said.
About 56 percent of university students and staff will need to enter the program to successfully manage public outreach in schools, he said.
The Covid Watch app, managed by a nonprofit organization established by developers, is one of the most widely used or tested platforms in the world to test a new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 and to get a diagnostic contract you may consult with an infected person.
The use of technology in this way, as the world looks to the future after this ongoing disease, is likely to be part of this “new normal,” experts say.
“We have been working to collect information on cellular diseases for a long time,” Jessilyn Dunn, a member of a team at Duke University who works on a project called CovIdentify, told ND.
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They hope to learn how the data collected by smartphones, Apple Watches and other smartwatches can help detect COVID-19 symptoms in users.
“Technology is not new, but COVID-19,” said Dunn, associate professor of engineering at Duke. “The only question is whether the devices are sensitive enough to detect specific symptoms of this virus.”
Similarly, a team of international investigators is analyzing a device called the Oura ring – which is worn as a bracelet or a watch – as a trademark of COVID-19. The device is designed to monitor body temperature of the wearer, heart rate, respiration rate and activity level, among other parameters.
“The best explanation [to explain the potential benefits of wearable technology] is the difference between video recording and summary,” Janet Robishaw, senior associate dean of research at Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida University, one of the Oura study sites, told ND.
“The past provides more information about the profession – you can find emotions, body language, energy functions, etc. – and that can be turned into information,” he said.
Around the world, governments are doing the same thing with the rest of society. Countries such as France, Germany, Italy and South Korea have introduced contracts for tracking smartphones, the glasses used in China. Ireland and Japan are also reportedly testing similar beta apps.
To date, much of the controversy in the use of this technology has focused on privacy. Critics have expressed concern that personal health data – not to mention
“That’s probably the number one conversation we have,” Dunn said, adding that this concern is part of the reason why CovIdentify doesn’t include contact tracking.
However, while “there is always a risk of security breaches,” he said, he and his colleagues have taken steps to protect users’ privacy. Their partners elsewhere provided similar guarantees.
Either way, the potential benefits that are associated with the role of the technology in fighting this far-flung epidemic are shrinking, Dunn said.
“Some of the questions that most of us have been asking ourselves are, why, with all the technology at our disposal, did our response to the COVID-19 epidemic stand in stark contrast to the world’s reaction to the flu? 1918,” he said.
“We have all this great technology that can give us the right information,” Dunn said. “Why shouldn’t it be part of our public health response not only to COVID-19, but also to future epidemics?”