New technology helps Erie County track COVID-19

Posted at 9:26 PM, Apr 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-27 23:39:57-04

SANDUSKY, Ohio — A Northeast Ohio health department is using technology to find COVID-19 hotspots and help get testing to those neighborhoods.

Symptom Collector,a tool designed by a company called Chrysalis Partners, allows people in a specific county or city to check off their symptoms and underlying conditions, as well as record and upload audio of themselves coughing, so health officials can distinguish between a cough related to COVID-19 or one from a different illness.

Anne Wells, a sanitarian at the Erie County Health Department, said Symptom Collector "will really help our office of epidemiology and surveillance to kind of pinpoint areas in our community that we need to gear not only our advertising and outreach toward, but maybe even work with local partners and healthcare providers to kind of prioritize testing for neighborhoods."

Wells said the tool allows health workers to see in real time the symptoms and other health information of people responding to the questions on the Symptom Collector.

"Working and doing our contact tracing and interacting with these cases is really starting to show new symptoms that we weren’t originally in tune to," Wells said. "To have this piece of technology, I think, will be very interesting to see if we are able to distinguish a cough that’s so uniquely different from all these other coughs that we’re seeing."

Kitty Kolding, the CEO of Chrysalis Partners, said the idea behind Symptom Collector is "to give cities, counties, first responders the ability to peer into what we think of as a pretty sizable blind spot: people that are doing what they’re supposed to do by staying at home, but who might be getting sick."

Right now, Kolding said, it can be difficult for public health officials to know how many people are sick, where they live and how sick they are.

Symptom Collector gives people an opportunity to report their systems quickly and in real time, as they get better or worse, allowing health workers and epidemiologists to have that data at their fingertips to make decisions about how to prioritize their resources.

Kolding said the brand new technology that can help distinguish between COVID-19 cough and other kinds of coughs was devised by an artificial intelligence scientist, Dr. Michelle Archuleta.

"Over time, if we can rapidly get the AI trained, at some point in the future, a user can actually cough and get an indication back that says, 'That sounds like a COVID cough,' or 'It doesn’t, stay home,'" Kolding said.

Combining that with symptoms, underlying conditions and factors such as age can give a clearer picture of what you're looking at, Kolding said.

"The goal has been to give health officials an early warning, give them a little notice about what might be coming, where there might be an area of a pocket of folks getting sick," Kolding said.

The technology was first launched last week in Jackson, Mississippi, before its launch in Erie County, Ohio. Kolding said a few nations outside the U.S. are looking at this, as well as about a dozen U.S. cities, both small and large.