From Our Team
Posted on July 16, 2020 by Dr. Michael Kelly
We know that staying home as much as possible, social distancing, frequent hand washing and wearing a mask if you must leave the house can significantly reduce the chances of spreading COVID-19. Now, a group of Texas epidemiologists is also hoping that technology and data can be used to help control the current surge of COVID-19 cases and potentially get ahead of the next one.
Doctors from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) have joined a worldwide study aiming to predict and prevent new COVID-19 outbreaks and surges using an app developed as part of the COVID-19 symptom tracking initiative in collaboration with Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, King’s College London and Stanford Medical School. But they need help from our community to do it.
This citizen’s science initiative needs participation from our community to be effective. You can download iOS and Android versions of the COVID Symptom Tracking app, in English or Spanish, free at go.uth.edu/COVIDTracker. In order to attain the level of data needed to detect spikes of COVID-19 in our community accurately, UTHealth researchers need a large portion of El Pasoans to use the app every day to track whether or not they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
Here’s some good news: El Paso needs fewer than 200 more daily participants on the app to get an estimate of the extent of COVID-19 symptoms in the community. In the last year, we’ve seen our community overcome so much and I know that we can also help lead the way through this pandemic if we continue to come together and help.
“The idea is that by tracking symptoms regionally, over time, we can detect spikes closer to real-time,” says Dr. Shreela V. Sharma, UTHealth Professor of Epidemiology. “It only takes 1-3 minutes every day to track your symptoms. If enough people use the app on a day-to-day basis, we can predict spikes 5-7 days before they happen, all the way down to the zip code level. You can track for yourself and your family members.”
That five-day gap is important because it will empower us with information to tighten safety measures in areas with higher symptom activity, and thus potentially prevent or minimize an outbreak. These epidemiologists hope that with an increase in information, Texas can avoid further lockdowns and restrictions that harm the economy.
If a spike is detected, the information is shared with health officials immediately, giving them valuable time to prepare for a spike in confirmed cases.
“This app gives the public and officials immediate data in the palm of their hands,” says Dr. Bijal Balasubramanian, the dean of UTHealth School of Public Health’s Dallas campus. “With infectious disease outbreaks, we need several strategies concurrently to curb the spread. Symptom tracking along with testing and mitigation strategies such as masks can be very effective in getting ahead of the virus spread.”
More importantly, she adds: “Public health only works when the public participates. Researchers alone aren’t going to solve this.”
The app will even remind you each day when it’s time to tell it whether or not you are experiencing any symptoms. It is also secure, private and does not track movement. Any data that is shared with the government or healthcare officials are tied to users’ ZIP codes alone. All data are stripped of personally identifiable information, such as the email address used to create a profile.
This free and easy-to-use app can help keep you, your family and your community healthy.
El Paso can be a champion for the COVID Symptom tracker initiative and a beacon for the state as we continue to battle this deadly virus.
On that note, the Paso del Norte Health Foundation has issued a Request for Proposal from nonprofits looking for support in their organizational recovery, preparedness for a potential second wave or other crisis, and transformation efforts to ensure the future success of their organization as our region attempts to emerge from the devastating impact of this public health crisis. Interested organizations can get more information by visiting https://pdnhf.org/grant-center/funding-opportunities.
Let’s come together as a community once again to show the world how to get through a crisis stronger – and healthier – than ever.
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