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Tufts Public Health

A Low-Tech Way to Track COVID-19 Symptoms Focused on Elderly

“The main idea is to safely and easily catch new cases and get people the help they need as early as possible while preventing them from coming to a hospital unless absolutely necessary,” said James Intriligator. Photo: Depositphotos
Wednesday, April 15, 2020

From a public health perspective, identifying new coronavirus infections—and isolating those patients early—can be a powerful way to slow the spread of disease.

New technology, like the Covid Symptom Tracker smartphone app launched in the UK, can aid those efforts by letting the public self-report symptoms and map high-risk areas nearby. Inevitably, though, high-tech solutions exclude large parts of a city’s population.

Older adults, the demographic that has been hit hardest the COVID-19 pandemic, may not have the same digital access and literacy skills of their younger neighbors, says Lisa Gualtieri, associate professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine. So how can medical personnel contact and monitor those who are most at risk?

Gualtieri is part of a new effort at Tufts working to solve that problem. It’s called the Social Temperature Observation and Monitoring Project, or STOMP-Covid, and is taking a decidedly low-tech approach to tracking the disease.

Instead of using smartphones, the project will use automated text messages and old-fashioned phone calls to recruit people sixty-five and older and ask them to report their temperatures twice a day. If a participant’s temperature spikes, they’ll receive an automated follow up call to help them determine next steps.

“Isolation is already a problem for many older adults, and the current situation makes it even worse. We want to make it as easy as possible to connect with those people, learn about any fluctuations in temperature, and make sure they receive help if they need it,” said Gualtieri.

“If you look at the way the virus is spread in China, much of the communication and transmission happened within households,” added James Intriligator, professor of the practice in mechanical engineering at Tufts, who is co-principal investigator on the project. “If we can spot beginnings of an infection by seeing a person’s temperature change, we could ask them to monitor their condition every hour instead of twice per day, and tell them to stay away from everyone else in their house,” he said.

In order to help treat patients at home, STOMP-Covid might also be able to connect them with human volunteers from Tufts School of Medicine for advice, or even provide them with swabs for testing and other important equipment.

“The next step up could be delivering a test kit to your front door and picking it up off their front porch, or sending oxygen to your house if needed,” he said. “The main idea is to safely and easily catch new cases and get people the help they need as early as possible while preventing them from coming to a hospital unless absolutely necessary.”

In that regard, a system like STOMP-Covid could relieve enormous pressures on emergency departments during the pandemic, and prevent infected patients from coming into contact with other people.

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