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Coronavirus-Tracking Platform Gets Traction in Hawaii

An online platform called Aloha Trace is meant to track the spread of coronavirus throughout the state of Hawaii. The online survey focuses on respondent symptoms, location and movement in the community.

by Rob Shikina, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser / April 14, 2020
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(TNS) — A new online platform that uses crowdsourced data to generate a picture of the new coronavirus’ spread in Hawaii has already received thousands of submissions in one week since going live.

The platform, called Aloha Trace, is a short online survey that designers say can be answered in two minutes. The survey focuses on respondents’ symptoms, location and movement in the community.

Brandon Kurisu, president of aio Digital, who oversees Upspring — the company that designed the platform — said about 7,000 responses have been received since he unveiled the survey Tuesday at a news conference.

“You’re answering six anonymous, confidential questions, every day if you can,” Kurisu said Sunday. “By doing so you’re doing your part to combat the spread of COVID-19 in Hawaii.”

He hopes more people continue to answer the survey daily, especially on the neighbor islands, to give state officials an understanding of where the virus may be spreading in the community.

Kurisu said the platform is based on the concept of contact tracing, which has been successfully used in South Korea to reduce the disease’s spread. He said South Korean officials used cellphone tracking to monitor the movement of people who tested positive, and alerted businesses or others that they had been in close contact with a virus carrier.

Such monitoring would be illegal in the U.S. because of federal health privacy laws, but working with the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center at the University of Hawaii, Kurisu and others came up with the idea of using crowdsourcing to create a similar system.

Kurisu said his company built the platform in one week because of the urgent need for additional tools to address the crisis in the islands.

Jenifer Winter, a University of Hawaii-Manoa professor who researches public health through big data and is not part of the project, said this kind of information could be useful as long as researchers are “contextualizing” it and understand the data’s limitations. She said an analysis of the data should include the understanding that there may be bad actors who intentionally submit erroneous information or overly anxious people who are not infected, but report having symptoms.

Because there have not been enough resources to do widespread testing, the crowdsourced data could alert officials to a spike in respiratory symptoms in an area or highlight areas where officials should do more testing, she said.

Winter said because the dataset is new, there is nothing to compare it with, but as the data grows, researchers will be able to start comparing week-to-week data to get a better idea of how things are changing.

Kurisu said designers are still working to finish the platform’s “dashboard,” which will be the interface for government and health officials to see the crowdsourced data as it arrives in real time. The dashboard will show an interactive map with dots indicating where people have reported symptoms, down to the nearest intersection, and where they’ve been.

So, what will the public see from all the submitted surveys?

Even Kurisu doesn’t know. He said government and public health agencies will have access to the data, but it will be up to them how and when they start presenting the information to the public, such as with public announcements of possible clusters. Visit alohatrace.org to take the survey.

©2020 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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