How CIOs can help in the fight against COVID-19

There’s no shortage of IT vendors pitching free trials of cloud-based tools they promise will help deal with the COVID-19 crisis many enterprises are facing.

Most are, at best, addressing the side-effects on business of social-distancing policies governments have introduced to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

But there may be ways to put your organization’s data and IT systems to use in combatting the pandemic head on by helping identify cases, track their spread or promote measures to prevent it. A host of companies beyond the healthcare sector can play a role in reducing the pandemic’s impacts, including consumer electronics manufacturers, mobile network operators and even supermarkets.

Businesses that develop apps that interact with activity monitors, fitness trackers or smart watches are sitting on a pile of data with potential clues to the prevalence of COVID-19 and other influenza-like illnesses (ILIs). Higher-than-usual resting heart rate combined with longer-than-usual sleep intervals — both things these devices can detect — may be a sign someone has an ILI. Back in January, researchers at the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California, reported that trends in such data from 47,249 Fitbit users in five states helped improve the accuracy of prediction models for the spread of ILIs, and closely correlated with state-by-state seasonal flu figures reported by the CDC.

Tracking the spread

That study, based on data from 2016-2018, made no claims about COVID-19: When it was published there were fewer than 500 cases of the disease worldwide. Nor did it seek to diagnose individual cases, as data from the devices was anonymized and researchers had no access to their wearers’ medical history. Nevertheless, it sheds light on how the data of fitness trackers, for example, can be used as a potential source of information on the spread of COVID-19 and other ILIs.

Mobile phones and apps are another source of data that can help model the spread of COVID-19, and even help trace individual cases.

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