New Smartphone Innovations for Tracing and Testing Covid-19

December 04, 2020

As Covid-19 cases climb throughout the United States and vaccines are starting to become available, new tracking and testing options are also becoming more prevalent.

We’ve covered many such options in other countries, but new innovations are making these possibilities available in the U.S., too, while protecting user privacy as part of the process.

Exposure Notification

Both Apple and Google’s Android have incorporated Covid-19 exposure notification capabilities within their operating systems. Once turned on, this feature is made to pair with efforts within each state–often by state universities, in conjunction with state health departments. The software will tell someone if they have come into contact with another person using the app who has tested positive for Covid-19, based on their location data. The largest caveat is that it will only notify users if they’ve come into contact with someone with Covid-19 who is also using the app and has disclosed their positive status. Even though the data is anonymous and will not reveal the sick person’s identity, many people may opt not to use the program because it feels too much like a breach of privacy. In order to be most effective, more than 60 percent of the population of any given state must sign up.

At-Home Covid-19 Test

Another option for increased awareness and safety is a new at-home coronavirus test that uses your smartphone and provides results within 15-30 minutes. A team of scientists from Gladstone Institutes, University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), and University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have been working on this new test, which will allow anyone to swab their nostrils, insert the swab in a device that connects to their smartphone, and get results within the hour. 

This easy and rapid testing could help slow virus spread by making it much easier for anyone to check whether they have the coronavirus before they go grocery shopping, to work, or to otherwise interact with others. 

“This is especially helpful in places with limited access to testing, or when frequent, rapid testing is needed. It could eliminate a lot of the bottlenecks we’ve seen with COVID-19,” says Jennifer Doudna, PhD. Duodna is a senior investigator at Gladstone, a professor at UC Berkeley, president of the Innovative Genomics Institute, and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Doudna recently won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for co-discovering CRISPR-Cas genome editing, the technology being used to create the new test.