Doctor calls technology 'instrumental' in tracking the spread of COVID-19

Published: Apr. 17, 2020 at 5:06 PM CDT
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The technology that keeps people connected from the comfort of their homes is also helping doctors working on the front lines exchange information.

"I am using WhatsApp chat to maintain close communication with physicians in New York, in Chicago, in Florida," said Dr. Raul Mendoza, a pulmonary specialist at Aurora Health Care.

Next to a mass increase in reliable testing, Dr. Mendoza says it is real-time data that will be crucial in tracking the spread of COVID-19 now and when the Safer at Home Order ends.

"There is a lot of uncertainty, and people are craving for information. They're craving for data. They're craving for numbers," he said.

One free smartphone app allows people to contribute symptom information. Developed by researchers at four major universities, the COVID Symptom Tracker asks users to report voluntary and anonymous data about how they feel once a day. Researchers use the information that gets entered to estimate how many people have COVID-19 symptoms in a certain area. The estimate is not confirmed cases and gets more accurate as the number of people who contribute information grows larger.

"People without any experience may misinterpret the data," said Dr. Mendoza. "It is important for us to educate the public about what is the meaning of those curves, and what is the meaning of those numbers?"

He asks people to only look at information from trusted sources calling misinformation "extremely damaging."

Google and Apple are also working on a smartphone app to make tracing the spread of COVID-19 easier.

"If you are a consumer, and you sign for the app, eventually come down with symptoms of COVID, and you test positive, that app automatically and anonymously will alert other users that potentially have been in close contact with that person to start looking for symptoms," said Mendoza.

Aurora Health Care offers patients a COVID-19 Symptom Checker online. Users who believe they may have the virus can answer a series of questions and get advice about the best way to proceed for care.