Texas doctors working on app to keep track of COVID-19 symptoms

North Texas researchers say we can’t keep playing catch up with COVID-19. They say they have a tool to help get ahead of it, but they need your help.

If you go the app store, you’ll find several COVID-related apps. But researchers say this one is not commercial and not for profit.

It’s run by scientists in the UK and led in the US by a group at Harvard. Now, the UT Health Science Centers are on board. 

Dr. Bijal Balasubramanian is an epidemiologist and regional dean of the UT Health School of Public Health in Dallas. She says a new free app may finally give public health experts the edge they need.

It’s the COVID Symptom Study app. It’s used by 3.5 million people in the UK and is now taking off in the US.

“The really cool thing and exciting thing about this app is it allows us now to get ahead of it. At least 5 days ahead of it,” Balasubramanian said.

The app asks users to log their symptoms daily. Researchers look for developing hot spots by zip code. 

“It will say, ‘Are you feeling ok?’ And if you are feeling well, just record it and move on. Takes one minute,” the doctor said. “The really, really important thing is to record it even if you are well.”

Balasubramanian says researchers need to establish a baseline. Then they can see symptom progression and a spike. Most people will get a COVID diagnosis 5-7 days after symptoms start.

Identifying when people first show symptoms offers valuable lead time, helping public health officials allocate resources like ventilators and make other important changes if COVID is on the rise. 

“The data can help schools almost five days in advance make some decisions, transition for a couple of weeks or three weeks to virtual learning so that they can keep kids safe,” Balasubramanian said.

The doctor says the app is even nimble enough to change, adding symptoms as they’re discovered like loss of taste and smell and adapting as the science is refined.

But to get to that point, they need users. That’s where we come in. 

“It is extremely important, and I wouldn’t even say just for Texas but for the nation,” Balasubramanian said. “We all really want to get back to work. We want to get back. I want my kids to get back to school.”