Story at a glance

  • You can self-report your symptoms and diagnosis on a number of new online tools during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Covid Near You aims to give public health officials more information about mild cases of COVID-19 that may not have been diagnosed, as well as more severe ones.
  • The tool was created by Harvard scientists even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

John Brownstein saw "Contagion," too. The chief innovation officer at Boston’s Children’s Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School told CTV News he realized then that public health officials needed a way to aggregate information quickly in a pandemic. 

Now, with COVID-19 cases reported in nearly every country around the world, the tool he and his team created is being used to crowdsource information about the novel coronavirus. 


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“(It’s) this idea that we can engage the public in public health by having people report their symptoms and tell us about illness in the community around data that we actually don’t have access to generally,” Brownstein told CTV News.

Covid Near You allows users to self-report information, from how they're feeling to what symptoms they might be experiencing. The website asks you to update your condition every day if you can, even if you're healthy, to help provide public health officials with a better picture of how the disease is moving across the map in real time. Your data will be anonymized and presented on the map for 14 days after your initial report, after which it expires.

“Most of the data we get is from people’s interactions with health care, but it doesn’t count the massive amount of mild illness in the community — and we know that’s actually true for COVID as well, huge amounts of people sick, but no testing available to know how many people are actually getting ill,” Brownstein told CTV News.


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As of April 13, more than 400,000 people have reported their symptoms on the site, but less than half of them reported taking a COVID-19 test. The lag in testing is another reason Brownstein said they're focusing on symptoms, rather than diagnosed cases. 

Similar maps have been created since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, including one for your phone, and the website cautions that results could vary depending on their audiences. The map also parallels another Brownstein helped create called Health Map, which tracks outbreaks of multiple diseases, from the flu to Ebola. 

“What we’re trying to do is arm public health officials with the right amount of data in real time about what’s happening, where we are with cases, how many people have been infected, what emerging hotspots are out there, is social distancing working,” Brownstein told CTV News. 


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Published on Apr 13, 2020