New App Can Aid Faster Connecticut “Reopening”

A user-friendly screen on the downloaded How We Feel app

“How are you feeling, Wilton?”

The global health community wants to know. And if Wilton answers the question, it might help Connecticut open back up sooner.

In March 2020, an independent non-profit organization called the How We Feel Project was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Project is a collaboration among world-class scientists, doctors, public health experts, and technology leaders. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is one of several high-profile supporters.

The Project has launched the How We Feel app that anonymously collects users’ health status and symptoms. The idea is to fill the huge information void that exists due to limited coronavirus testing. Without widespread testing, it is difficult to identify where the virus is spreading and predict where new hotspots might emerge.  

A “check-in” on the app only takes about 30 seconds and provides real-time information to researchers and professionals working to stop the virus’ spread. The app is not a diagnostic tool, but a way to “crowd-source” meaningful data and trends that may be missed by lagging or insufficient testing.

In a statement released on Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont urged all Connecticut residents to download and use the app. “We’re all looking for something we can do to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this app provides an opportunity for everyone–regardless of whether you are currently sick or if you are in [a] healthy condition–to share how you’re feeling to leading health professionals, so they can track the spread of this virus and quickly determine where a new outbreak may be occurring,” he said. 

Beyond just symptom metrics, data from the How We Feel app can be used to help evaluate how interventions like “stay home” orders or business closures are working. It could also be used to assess whether and when it is safe to begin the complex “reopening” process.

Wilton’s Peter Denious, President and CEO of AdvanceCT, a non-profit that works to improve the state’s economic climate, believes the app’s data will yield important insights.  “The more data, the better, likely leading to a faster and safer Connecticut reopening. I can assure you that a lot of very smart folks from the science, healthcare, business, and higher ed communities are working around the clock to reopen CT in the safest possible way,” he said. “Gov. Lamont has been consistent that health and safety will come first.” 

Indra Nooyi, co-chair of AdvanceCT’s Board of Directors and co-chair of Gov. Lamont’s Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group, echoed those beliefs. “As our taskforce works on our plan for… getting the state back to work, How We Feel will be a critical tool for us to get a better understanding of how the whole population is feeling, both healthy and sick… to more quickly make the important decisions about opening the economy.”

Importantly, the app was designed to avoid any data privacy concerns. Dr. Gary King, a distinguished faculty member and data privacy expert at Harvard University, was consulted on the Project to ensure that all participants’ identities would be protected. The app does not ask for a user’s name, email address, or personally identifiable information; it only asks for age (users must be 18 or older), gender, ZIP code, and a simple checklist of health symptoms/conditions. Data is reported in aggregate and only shared with select scientists, doctors, and public health professionals who are working to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

The app enables users to see how others in their area are feeling, provides links to the state’s coronavirus resources, and offers prevention tips and other useful information.

Need additional incentive? The first time you provide a check-in, the Project will donate a meal to people in need through Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the U.S. They have committed to providing up to 10 million meals. Over 350,000 meals have already been delivered.

For more information, visit the How We Feel Project online. The app can be downloaded for free in the Apple App Store and Google Play.