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

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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