How We Feel App offers Individual and Population Insights to COVID 19

  • iconMental and physical health
  • iconDisease modeling
  • iconInfection and infection control
Brent Coull, Xihong Lin, Briana Stephenson

Harvard Chan faculty are using crowdsourcing technology to fight the coronavirus. The How We Feel app tracks COVID-19 in local communities, helping scientists better understand and fight the pandemic in the US.  The app, a product of The How We Feel (HWF) Project, was created by a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary team of volunteer researchers, including Chan faculty, Xihong Lin (Harvard Chan PI of the HWF project), Feng Zhang (Broad Institute PI of the HWF project), and Ben Silbermann (CEO of Pinterest).  The HWF project was built on remarkable levels of cooperation among academia, industry, government, and the general public, to use data-driven approaches to jointly fight COVID-19.The app collected self-reported data about how participants felt, their symptoms, PCR and antibody test results, exposures, pre-existing comorbidities, demographics and behaviors. To date, the HWF app has over 700,000 users and more than 12 million responses. This data is aggregated and shared with researchers and public health agencies who study the epidemiological characteristics, transmission dynamics, interventions, and physical and mental profiles to gain important insights about combatting the disease.For example, three faculty members in Biostatistics, together with colleagues and postdoctoral fellows and graduate students at Harvard, MIT and Broad Institute, analyzed the database to develop informed responses to the ongoing pandemic. Professors of Biostatistics, Xihong Lin and Brent Coull, recently published a paper in Nature Human Behavior, that used the HWF data to identify factors such as exposures, symptoms, demographics, occupations, and pre-existing medical conditions for testing accessibility and testing results of individual users, as well as behavior (for example, use of face coverings) and sentiment (for example, feeling safe to go to work). Briana Stephenson, Assistant Professor of Biostatistics, intends to use the HWF data to gain insight into how and why disparities continue to persist within certain populations that have been disproportionately affected by COVID.  Lin’s study shows the differences in health across populations while Stephenson’s study shows the differences in health within populations.  This juxtaposition points to different interventions that can mitigate the consequences of the virus.  Particularly in the context of a pandemic, utilizing both individual-based and population-wide strategies based on analysis of real world data, is key to achieving the best possible health outcomes.