The App Giving Everyday Citizens the Power to Help Fight the Coronavirus

The COVID-19 Citizen Science (CCS) project aims to enrol one million adults worldwide to contribute to epidemiological data in real time

02.04.2020 | by Reve Fisher
Photo by Thom Holmes on Unsplash
Photo by Thom Holmes on Unsplash

News about COVID-19 can be overwhelming. As the number of cases increases, it can be hard to just watch from the sidelines, helpless to stop it. Now, anyone with a smartphone can contribute to real-time epidemiological data needed to further understanding of the disease.

Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) have developed a mobile app allowing everyday citizens to become a “citizen scientist.”

The project, COVID-19 Citizen Science (CCS), is available to adults all around the world—and the researchers behind it are hoping that at least one million people worldwide will join. According to Dr Gregory Marcus, a professor of the UCSF department of medicine and a co-leader of CCS, a critical mass of participants could help researchers learn more information about how the virus is spreading and find ways to predict and decrease the number of new cases.

“We are asking each participant to share the link to recruit at least five others,” Dr Marcus said in a statement. “We want to demonstrate that the number of people signing up for this scientific study and contributing their data can increase exponentially, faster than the disease itself.”

Once enrolled, users will complete a short survey about their health and daily habits. Follow-up questions will less require less than 15 minutes a week and be delivered through push notifications or text messaging.

Users can also provide addition information to help further the study, such as geolocation (GPS) data as well as health data from Fitbit and similar bio-monitoring devices, such as blood pressure, weight, blood oxygen levels, body temperature, exercise and sleep patterns.

Over time, this influx of data will help researchers uncover behaviours and other factors that increase or decrease the risk of contracting the disease and affect how infected cases may recover.

“Social distancing keeps many protected,” Marcus said, “but joining together to contribute data will help us beat this thing.”

CCS stems from the Health eHeart Study project that that Dr Marcus launched in 2013 with Dr Jeffrey Olgin, professor of the UCSF department of medicine and co-director of the Heart and Vascular Center at UCSF, and Dr Mark Pletcher, professor of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics and the director of informatics and research innovation at the UCSF Clinical and Translational Science Institute. The project used online surveys, smartphone apps, portable blood pressure cuffs and electrocardiogram smartphone cases to eventually develop Eureka, a health research platform that offers personnel and infrastructure to help researchers to execute studies more efficiently.

Almost 30 studies have been hosted on the Eureka platform, and CSS is among the newest to join its ranks. As Health eHeart already has almost 250,000 research participants over more than 80 countries worldwide, they have been asked to start the domino effect towards the million-participant goal set by the physician-scientists and invite their friends and family to join.

Information about the study can be obtained through (if prompted, enter the study key: covid) or by texting “COVID” to 41411.

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