Back in March, Apple released its own COVID-19 App to help users stay informed about the novel coronavirus pandemic, its related symptoms, and ways to help prevent the spread, while also offering users a self-assessment tool to screen for the virus.
The app, which was simply named Apple COVID-19 was developed in partnership with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Coronavirus Task Force, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and made available as a free download on the App Store, as well as in the form of a public website with much of the same information and resources for those who didn’t have a compatible iPhone or preferred to access the tools on a larger-screened iPad or Mac.
Apple’s tool was notable as one of the first app-based responses to the ongoing pandemic, while also being offered as a properly certified and authoritative solution at a time when Apple was concerned about a lot of misinformation being spread on the App Store. While Apple later partnered with Google to release a more sophisticated contact tracing and exposure notification system, it has also continued to update and support its standalone COVID-19 app, since it serves a much different purpose from the exposure notification framework, the latter of which isn’t actually an app anyway, rather merely a foundation that other official public health apps can tie into.
Helping to Improve COVID-19 Screening
Now Apple has added an interesting new feature to its COVID-19 app to allow users to anonymously share info with the CDC that could help to improve the organization’s COVID-19 screening protocol.
According to TechCrunch, both the iPhone app and the website now include the ability for users to anonymously share a wealth of information that could help medical researchers learn more about how to diagnose and track COVID-19. This includes age, existing health conditions, symptoms, potential exposure risks, and the U.S. state that you’re located in.
Not surprisingly with Apple’s strong stance on privacy, the company is making it abundantly clear that this information is not associated with anything that would personally identify a user in any way, and is simply being collected to provide aggregate data for medical researchers to study. It’s also important to note that it’s entirely opt-in — nothing will be sent to the CDC behind your back, but rather you’ll be asked if you’re willing to contribute, and naturally, medical researchers are hoping that a great many people will be willing to offer up their data anonymously to help further the study of COVID-19.
In addition to feeding this data into the research machine, it will also be used to help the CDC and various other public health agencies provide more accurate information to the public around potential risk factors for COVID-19, and specifically what constitutes exposure and the risk of exposure.
As TechCrunch notes, while it may feel like we’ve all been in social isolation for a long time now, the reality is that COVID-19 is still in its infancy in virological terms, and as a result, scientists are still struggling to get a better understanding of it. In order to do this, it’s important that they collect as much data as possible from affected populations in order to figure out how to best combat its spread and provide effective treatments. The more data people are willing to share, the better chance that medical professionals will have of diagnosing people accurately and explaining how to make the most effective preventative measures.