Website allows people to report coronavirus symptoms, track spread

(NEW YORK) — As health experts and public officials have warned that confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus are likely nowhere near the actual number of people infected, medical professionals in Boston have created a website to help close the gap.

“COVID Near You” allows the public to report coronavirus-related symptoms. The site asks users how they are feeling with the options of “Great, thanks!” and “Not feeling well” as answers.

Those who answer that they’re not feeling well are asked to identify their symptoms and answer a series of questions, such as when they began to feel ill, if they have been in quarantine or isolation and whether they have traveled outside of the United States.

Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital who helped develop the website, said that with more data it would be easier to identify emerging hotspots.

He told ABC News that most people experience mild illnesses, so they often won’t go to a health care provider.

“It’s so important to understand the mild illness,” said Brownstein, an ABC News Medical Unit contributor. “A mild illness in the community … that is what ends up leading to more complicated issues.”

There are more than 590,000 cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, in the world, and at least 26,943 people have died, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

A map on the website shows the number of people in the U.S. who have reported experiencing coronavirus symptoms, which can range from mild, like a slight cough, to more severe, including fever and difficulty breathing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The website was created by employees at HealthMap, a medical data tool at Boston Children’s Hospital, and is similar to one developed to track the flu.

While Brownstein noted that it was possible for false information to slip through the cracks, they have established protections to limit it.

“COVID Near You” collects a zip code and IP address from those who use it, which, Brownstein said, make it easier to determine if one person is continuously entering incorrect data.

And while the site has limitations — it will not give someone a diagnosis of coronavirus — Brownstein said he believes local officials will find it a very useful tool.

“We’re putting the ‘public’ back in public health,” he said.

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