COVID-19

Tracking the pandemic? There’s an app for that.

Jack Stewart Mar 26, 2020
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The Weather Channel app has a new tool that lets users track reported cases of COVID-19 near them. Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Tracking the pandemic? There’s an app for that.

Jack Stewart Mar 26, 2020
The Weather Channel app has a new tool that lets users track reported cases of COVID-19 near them. Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

If you use The Weather Channel app, you might have noticed a new tab for COVID-19 next to daily forecast and radar. The IBM-owned app company has a new tool that lets users track reported cases of the illness in their local areas and other counties and states. 

It’s just one of the ways that tech companies and researchers are working to collect and analyze data on the disease. 

I’ve been watching IBM’s app, known as The Weather Co., obsessively today — watching the number of cases in my home county, Los Angeles, tick up to 799. 

“We are sourcing information from multiple government sources, down to a county level,” said Sheri Bachstein, global head of consumer business at The Weather Co.

Harvard and Boston Children’s Hospital developed another tracker, covidnearyou.org. It crowdsources symptoms people enter, even if they haven’t had a COVID-19 test. 

China, South Korea and Taiwan have been using cell phone location data to trace contacts among individuals in affected areas.

“Norms and expectations about this differ from country to country,” said David Lazer, professor of political science and computer and information science at Northeastern University in Boston. “But in the U.S., I think it would be unacceptable to share identified individual-level data.”

Italy, Germany and Austria are using anonymized location data to see how well stay-at-home orders are working.

Nina Fefferman, a researcher at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, said that for this pandemic, we’re likely past the point where tracking tools can inform mitigation or containment plans. 

“For next year, or as this goes forward, hopefully everything calms down a bit, then these kinds of tools are really wonderful for complementing medical surveillance,” Fefferman said.

She does have a caveat: when sharing data about local outbreaks, education and context are crucial to prevent people from being more worried than they need to be. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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