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COVID Watch

Hotspots of COVID-19 risk in our map demo (fake data)

Our Mission


Slow the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19 with crowdsourced data.

We are developing an app that shows individuals their risk of COVID-19 infection based off GPS data, known cases, and Bluetooth proximity networks. We aim to do so in a way that preserves transparency and personal privacy.


Our Plan

We believe there's a non-trivial chance that GPS tracking or other sources of location information could reduce the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19 by informing individuals of their risk and helping implement better self-quarantine measures. We also believe that this can be done in a way that doesn't sacrifice rights like privacy.

We're a group of volunteers researching and designing an open-source app to make this idea a reality. Ideally, this app will take the GPS and Bluetooth data of users in an anonymised way, as well as some information about their potential or confirmed infection status, and use it to the benefit of both them and everybody else. There are several ways this could happen: through secure and anonymous contact tracing, through the creation of a risk heatmap , and through more accurate epidemiological modelling.

A more in-depth discussion of our plan is available here

We Can Make A Difference

The Challenge

At this point, it is apparent that a strategy of pure containment will not work for COVID-19: with over 100 000 recorded cases globally, a perfect quarantine is functionally impossible. This does not, however, mean that widespread global infection is inevitable. There is a third option.

What we need to do is build a system that is capable of rapidly containing local transmission, wherever and whenever it appears. By doing this, and implementing it in our communities, we can continue to interact with the rest of the world and any newly introduced cases will at most cause a small number of local infections. Even in the scenario where treatments options are limited and a vaccine isn’t developed for years, we can prevent the majority of the population from getting sick.

The Solution

One main non-pharmaceutical interventions currently being used for COVID-19 globally is contact tracing. When somebody is found to have the virus, epidemiologists reconstruct their movements to identify who they may have been in contact with: in other words, people they may have infected. We believe that technology can be an important part of this solution. In order to remain operational for years, the contact tracing system must have a low social and economic cost. Mobile technologies can provide instantaneous and high accuracy contact tracing, even between strangers. Instead of requiring thousands of healthcare workers to do this manually (as is the current approach in China) the process will be essentially cost-free. Because the system will be so accurate, a majority of people can continue to live their lives without the need for increased social distancing.

Our Contribution

What we are developing is essentially a combination of two things. Firstly, it will act as a preventative: lowering the risk of infection by alerting users of high-risk areas. Secondly, and more significant, it is a high-quality, low-cost filter to aid contact tracing efforts and quickly identify at-risk individuals.

Combined with a comprehensive testing program, our filter may be powerful enough to protect our communities from COVID-19 becoming endemic. That's a bold claim, but we firmly believe it can happen.

If We're Wrong

We're a competent team, and we like to think we know what we're doing. Even so, epidemiology is complex and the world can be a messy place. Perhaps some of our underlying assumptions about COVID-19 are incorrect, or our app requires some critical mass of adoption to be truly effective that we don't reach.

We've considered these scenarios, and designed with them in mind.

Firstly, we're constantly monitoring the progress of COVID-19 research and updating our assumptions accordingly, in close consultation with our academic advisors. If the research suggests that we're wildly off-track, we're open to making changes or reassessing the project as needed (although so far it's shown just the opposite). The end result is that if there's a more effective way to achieve our goals, we're in a good position to find it and pivot in that direction.
Secondly, we've designed our app to be useful at a range of adoption levels. At ubiquitous adoption levels, our Bluetooth contact tracing work alone could halt COVID-19's spread. Even if we don't reach that goal, however, our heatmap functionality is designed to provide value to our users even at extremely low adoption rates. This ensures that even if we do fall short of our ultimate goal, we still capture the significant benefit of slowing the spread of the virus.

This may not sound too impressive - if COVID-19 is going to become widespread anyway, why bother delaying the inevitable? The truth is that in reality, slowing the spread is still extremely useful: one major risk of COVID-19 is that it could overwhelm health systems, limiting their ability to care for people who desperately need it. By reducing infection rates we space cases out slowly enough that hospitals worldwide can deal with them as they come, saving lives.

CC BY 2.0 Esther Kim & Carl T. Bergstrom

Even simply delaying the peak of the infections still has benefits. Across the planet, health agencies are ramping up production of testing kits and other essentials: every extra day that we can give them to prepare translates into lives saved.

We're not there quite yet at the level of directly aiding these efforts - but we're close. By the end of March we aim to have a basic app ready to go to live, and with your support and cooperation, we can use it to beat this disease and keep our communities safe.

If you think you would like to help, see our collaborate page.

For all inquiries, please contact us at contact@covid-watch.org.

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