Otterbein University is asking the Westerville community and other willing participants to download a free app to help researchers identify COVID-19 coronavirus hot spots.

"We are encouraging all members of the Otterbein community to participate in citizen science," John Comerford, Otterbein president, said in an April 10 news release.

He said participation is simple, starting with downloading the COVID-19 Symptom Tracker app and opening it each day to report symptoms or lack of symptoms.

The symptom tracker was created by doctors and scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, King's College London and Stanford University School of Medicine, co-developed with ZOE -- a health-science company.

The app is designed to assist in the study of COVID-19 symptoms and in tracking the spread.

"We need everybody to download our free app to give us some information about your health, whether you're feeling well or having symptoms," Dr. Andrew Chan, chief researcher and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in a video provided by Otterbein.

"With this information, we'll have a lot more data in order to battle this virus," Chan said. "We'll be able to identify potential hot spots and areas around your communities that need more resources."

He said data is needed from as many people as possible, and he encourages people to "spread information, not the virus."

Roberto Ponce, Otterbein's executive director of marketing and communications, said he has started using the app.

"It's very easy to use," he said. "We sent it to students, faculty and staff. It's to help identify hot spots. That's where the value is. That's critical to control the pandemic."

He said the app tracks location by ZIP code.

"If enough Americans share daily how they feel, even if they're well, this app can provide the health-care system with critically valuable information," Chan said. "This app-based study is a way to find out where the COVID hot spots are, new symptoms to look out for and might be used as a planning tool to target quarantines, send ventilators and provide real-time data to plan for future outbreaks."

Otterbein's participation in citizen science fits perfectly in the university's integrative-studies program, which revolves around the theme of "Knowledge, Action, and the Public Good," according to Wendy Sherman Heckler, Otterbein's provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

Comerford said everyone has a natural human impulse to help in times of need.

"For many of us, that need is frustrated during the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.

Comerford said participating in citizen science is something everyone can do, and it's simple and safe.

"Doing so will help track COVID-19's spread until widespread rapid testing is available," he said.

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