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Apple Launches COVID-19 Screening Tool

Apple has launched a COVID-19 Screening Tool in the form of a Web site and a free iOS app. The tool, built in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control, aims to offer reliable information about COVID-19 and help anyone who suspects they may be infected check their symptoms and learn what actions to take.

Apple's COVID-19 app

The site and app are nearly identical, although the app is available only in the US, presumably to avoid stepping on the toes of health agencies in other countries. Their most prominent feature is the COVID-19 screening tool, which asks questions about your symptoms, behavior, and overall health. Apple makes it clear your answers will not be shared with Apple or any outside parties, though the app does save past results for later reference.

Josh tried the screening tool and found that it errs on the side of caution. He noted a sore throat as his only symptom (probably from seasonal allergies and dirty work outside) with no other risk factors, and the app suggested that he self-isolate for seven days with his own room and bathroom, if possible. Having a cough as the only symptom resulted in a similar recommendation. Adding in additional risk factors eventually gets you to the point where the tool recommends you see your doctor, your work’s occupational health provider, or your long-term care facility’s care team.

Apart from the screening tool, the site and app focus on providing vetted information:

  • About COVID-19: The About COVID-19 screen offers a CDC-approved FAQ about what COVID-19 is, its symptoms (with a link to the CDC Web site, presumably in case of updates), and other information.
  • What You Can Do: In this section, the site and app list ways to guard against COVID-19, including hand washing techniques, social distancing, and surface disinfection.
  • COVID-19 Testing: This section answers questions about who should get tested, how to get tested, and what to expect.

The COVID-19 app has one additional feature, which is a COVID-19 News option. Tapping it takes you to the special Apple News section about COVID-19 (see “Responding to COVID-19, Apple Closes All Stores Outside China,” 14 March 2020).

None of the app’s information is new or unusual—it’s the same drum that the CDC has been beating for some time now. That’s not bad, however. Although there is plenty of clear and reliable information about this global pandemic available on the Internet, people who get their “news” from social media, lack basic Internet research skills, or don’t follow reputable media outlets are at risk for falling prey to dangerous misinformation. If a tool from Apple can help those people stay safe and support public health efforts, all the better for everyone.

It does seem as though the app—or a future version of it—could be more ambitious than a simple decision tree and basic FAQ. If any company could develop a tool that would help users navigate a coronavirus-infected world more safely while maintaining individual privacy, it would be Apple.

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Comments About Apple Launches COVID-19 Screening Tool

Notable Replies

  1. I don’t live in the USA and the app was not available: “This app is currently not available in your country or region”

  2. Good to know, thanks! It’s not terribly surprising, given that other countries wouldn’t be enthused about it providing information from the CDC as opposed to their health agencies.

    Almost forgot, can you get to the Web site, @Fahirsch?

  3. I’m in the UK, and like @Fahirsch, the app isn’t available. However, I can access the website with no problem. I think you’re definitely right, Adam, that it wouldn’t be appropriate in other countries given some of the content is country-specific and it’s not appropriate to ‘bypass’ the local health authority. For the last several days at least, the App Store in the UK always opens to this:

  4. Same for Australia… web site access good, app not available.

  5. And if you’re an old person with an old iPhone – surely you can afford to buy a new phone to be able to use this lovely new product.

  6. While I applaud Apple for providing a tool (free of charge, at that), the legal terms are typically user-hostile. The specific issue that prompted this rant is early in the terms.

    The terms of these Terms of Use will govern any COVID-19 Website updates provided by Apple to the original COVID-19 Website, unless such update is accompanied by a separate agreement, in which case you agree that the terms of that agreement will govern such update.

    There is no date on the tool’s home page or in the Terms of Use, effectively meaning that a user should read the entire terms on each use, since there is no way to check if there has been any update. I conclude that Apple assumes no one will read the terms, ever, which is not a position that a socially responsible organization should take.

    This deficiency is common to most sites’ terms of use, but I would have hoped that Apple would do better. Just because “everyone else does it” is not a reason for poor performance, and certainly Apple has the wherewithal to produce a better Legal Terms document.

    Thanks for reading.

  7. An additional restriction is that the app requires iOS 13.1 or later to install.

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