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.
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.