80-plus days of washing hands, kitchen experiments, rekindling old hobbies, staying cooped up indoors, rare grocery trips, video calls, work from home -- all thanks to the fear of contracting the deadly coronavirus, which has radically changed life as we knew it.
With the government deciding to go into Unlock 1.0, most of us will soon be returning to our workplaces as we move further in an attempt to regain normalcy. However, it is important that we continue to remain well-informed and vigilant and maintain practices such as social distancing and good hand hygiene.
But how likely are you to catch the infection? A new online tool aims to reduce the pressure on healthcare institutions and alert those at high risk by helping people screen themselves for the virus.
Developed with the efforts of 150 behavioural scientists from 35 countries, Your Covid-19 Risk lets an individual calculate his or her personal risk of contracting and spreading the virus.
Psychologists Sylvia Roozen of Maastricht University and Gjalt-Jorn Peters of the Dutch Open University in the Netherlands are the two initiators who not only worked together on the tool but also helped coordinate the group to take this project forward.
Speaking to The New Indian Express, Peters says, "This is purely a behavioural tool which we have developed after getting inspired by the German app Pandemic Footprint Index (PFI). Based on the personal risk score calculated on the basis of a few simple questions, the tool offers easy and cost-effective suggestions to ensure adherence to healthy behaviours."
On how he and Sylvia were able to gather so many volunteers for the project, he says, “We put up a message on the WhatsApp group and other online networks for health psychologists asking for their help and they all pitched in. It was incredibly quick.” The tool was built in a period of just seven days.
Launched on May 7 in the Netherlands, the tool takes users through a brief series of questions and based on the responses given, a set of algorithms calculates an estimate of their individual risk of either contracting or transmitting COVID-19. Depending on the result, the tool also advises on behavioral changes, be it hand hygiene, staying indoors, maintaining social distancing and other personal factors that an individual has control over.
The tool takes into account the infection rates in 35 different countries. Within 24 hours of its release in the Netherlands, it had over 30,000 users.
The app will be launched in India in the next few days in Hindi, Gujarati and English. Dr Apurvakumar Pandya, a researcher from the Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar, is a part of the global team and has taken the responsibility of translating the tool into Gujarati.
Volunteering for the cause
Medhashree, a health psychologist based out of Navi Mumbai who also worked alongside 150 other scientists, says coordinators across the globe took on the project voluntarily along with their regular jobs.
“The COVID-19 crisis has taken the healthcare systems across the world by surprise. Globally, we do not have the infrastructure, testing capacity, or preventive treatments to stay on top of this disease. Until that changes, we should focus on identifying and minimizing avoidable risk factors and staying safe. This can drastically reduce the pressure on frontline workers as well as allow governments to allocate resources where it is needed the most - the poorer and most vulnerable communities that are at the greatest risk,” she says.
“This web app can be accessed using any smartphone or computer with an internet connection. It assesses an individual’s risk of exposure to the deadly virus based on personal risk factors but doesn’t diagnose COVID-19 and therefore, if you have any doubts about your condition, you should contact a health professional. It is crucial for us to be responsible for ourselves, our loved ones and the community at large in these difficult times,” Medhashree says.
“Apart from the existing tools such as Pandemic Footprint, behavioral change is an area of expertise that forms the basis of this venture. The tool is different since it provides an insight into why people exhibit certain risk behaviours,” she adds.
Medhashree says this online tool will be made available in other local languages in subsequent versions, such as Telugu, Marathi and Punjabi. “The language is kept simple and jargon-free, without difficult phrases or slang. Even Hindi is simplified for ease of use,” Medhashree says.
The details sought range from your location and age to your personal contacts and current lifestyle. On taking the quiz, the results provide both a risk assessment and a safety assessment. But no matter what your habits are, the researchers strongly believe that zero percent risk, at least at this stage, doesn’t exist!
What happens to the responses?
"We do not ask for personally identifiable questions and therefore, nobody will be able to track down the respondents. The answers to the anonymously completed questionnaires will be made available to governments, policymakers and healthcare organisations. The data gathered from this online tool will be sent to ICMR and MoHFW to help them take evidence-based and informed decisions when it comes to formulating health advisories and public health policy related to COVID-19,” says Medhashree.
The screening tool is available at https://www.your-covid-19-risk.com