Student works virtually on virus-tracking app
A student spent weeks in quarantine and lockdown as part of an international team that designed an online tool to track potential cases of Covid-19.
Gabe Jones, who is studying computer science at the University of Edinburgh, teamed up with Lee McArthur, a senior technologist, to develop HealthIQ, which was launched by the Bermuda Health Council last week.
The two — who have never met — were joined in their work on a virtual basis by Kai Huebner, a geographic information systems architect based in Brisbane, Australia, and Zeeshan Ali, a data scientist in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
Mr Jones explained that he responded to a post by Mr McArthur on an online forum, where he asked for help to make a Covid-19 symptom-tracking application.
The 18-year-old said: “It was my last day at university and I was heading home ... I said, well I have nothing else planned, I was going to do classes this week and I hadn’t really thought about this so, sure, this sounds like a fun project.
“For the couple of weeks I was in quarantine here and then the next four weeks after that of lockdown I’ve been working on this website with Lee.”
Mr McArthur, from Smith’s and the chief executive of Flatts-based data analytics consultant Sonic Intel, added: “Gabriel and I have never met in person yet we’ve spent the last 51 days working on this together.”
He explained that his interest was sparked as a member of the public who wanted to know more about the extent of the virus in Bermuda.
Mr McArthur said: “This was conceived well before the very first positive case was detected on island.
“Gabriel’s got the same affliction as I do with data, which is like a constant need to satisfy the gap, and there was a huge gap in terms of understanding this — and it’s not unique to Bermuda, it’s everywhere.”
He said that the island was “a unique community in terms of the willingness to share and help”.
The BHeC last week asked the public to visit HealthIQ.bm, where they can enter information about their health.
It said that as well as monitoring the community’s health status and symptoms that could be linked to the virus, the tool will help public health teams to identify risks and the resources needed to help.
Mr McArthur said that symptom-tracking tools had become common across the world.
He explained that a recent study published by the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, showed that symptom reports from the community corresponded directly with case outbreaks.
Mr McArthur said: “What it means is that they actually can use that data to forecast coronavirus activity several weeks ahead of time and so when it comes to a community of our size, the importance of that can’t be overstated, in that you can imagine a team of epidemiologists trying to figure out what to do in terms of boots-on-the-ground resource deployment to parts of the island in case there are hotspots.”
He added that the tool could help public health teams to be in a higher state of readiness of a second wave of the virus hit.
Mr Jones said: “We collect a lot of data regarding what constitutes a medically vulnerable person, so do they smoke? Do they have a GP they can go to? That kind of information.
“All that is collected and the health council is going to look over it and use that to determine what they need to do, what kind of people they need to cater to if there are certain risks.”
He highlighted that the tool was designed for the public and it was hoped that people would use it and update their health status on a regular basis to help to make it as effective as possible.
Mr McArthur said the platform was not for diagnoses but used a Bermuda Hospitals Board model to check if symptoms were a potential match for Covid-19.
He explained: “You can contribute your health symptoms in a way that is essentially completely anonymous.
“We’ve been listening to the community for the past couple of weeks, we’ve been making some changes ... where you can contribute your health information without giving away any information including a phone or e-mail.
“You can come in, provide your postcode, your demographic — that is gender, age, your symptoms, obviously, if you’re healthy or not — you can contribute all of that information without giving any personal identifiable information at all.”
Mr McArthur added that the health council was the “steward” of the information.
He said that the HealthIQ site followed the development of CovidIQ, which was designed to be used by health departments anywhere in the world.
Mr McArthur said: “It’s built in a way for healthcare authorities to take it over and run it just like the Bermuda Health Council has.”
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