An interdisciplinary, multi-institutional team of researchers from leading academic institutions including Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute and MIT, Xihong Lin of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Gary King, Director of the Institute of Quantitative Social Sciences of Harvard University, along with a volunteer team from Pinterest, Inc, led by co-Founder and CEO Ben Silberman, and other institutions, recently launched an app called HowWeFeel (https://www.howwefeel.org/). Contributors from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health included Jukka-Pekka Onnela, Christine Tedijanto, and Yonatan Grad.
The HowWeFeel app, which doesn’t ask for a name, phone number or email address, aggregates information including self-reported symptoms, testing results, and health and demographic details, to engage the community in the fight against COVID-19. This data is crucial right now due to the widespread shortage of COVID-19 testing.
In addition to statisticians, epidemiologists and biomedical researchers, the software development team included specialists in “differential privacy” techniques to make data available to researchers while protecting participants’ individual identities. The information collected by the app will be shared with select scientists, public health professionals, and doctors who need more data to continue fighting the spread of the virus.
According to Lin, “The data gives us a bird’s eye view of COVID-19 that helps us predict regions on the brink of an outbreak. Our analysis could uncover epidemiological characteristics of the outbreak and how the disease spreads through communities, identify outbreak hotspots, study the time course of symptoms as the disease spreads, estimate region-specific testing needs and strategies for setting up testing prioritization and new testing sites, and evaluate whether interventions such as social distancing have effects on reducing transmission. Our analysis could help policymakers and public health leadership to tune their response.”
The non-profit consortium How We Feel Project (HWF) that oversees the app intends to make an impact at national and international levels. Each time an individual downloads the app and completes a health check-in, HWF will donate a meal to people in need through the non-profit Feeding America. In addition, HWF is currently working to organize an international consortium called the Coronavirus Census Collective (CCC) comprised of researchers from 11 countries that have developed similar health status surveys.
Self-reported data can be a powerful new tool in our fight against the pandemic. According to Lin, “Each health check-in may feel like a small act, but together they’ll make a huge difference for researchers like myself who are trying to understand this outbreak and develop intervention measures to control it”.
To participate, download the app from the Apple Store and Google Play.