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Chicago creates app to pre-register for coronavirus vaccine

The web-based “Chi COVID Coach” app is accessible on a computer or smartphone and does not need to be downloaded. Benefits for those who register will include “daily check-ins” on their well-being.

A lab technician cleans a test tube containing a live sample taken from people tested for the novel coronavirus at a facility in Scotland.
A lab technician cleans a test tube containing a live sample taken from people tested for the novel coronavirus.
Getty

Chicagoans can now pre-register for a coronavirus vaccine, get text messages “tailored to their symptoms” and also receive guidance about “where and when to seek medical care” by downloading a new web-based app unveiled by City Hall Monday.

The “Chi COVID Coach” app was developed by Google and MTX to help the Chicago Department of Public Health communicate with Chicagoans who have either tested positive for the virus or may be experiencing symptoms.

Those who register will get “daily check-ins” on their well-being, as well as advice about “what they and other people in their households should do to limit the spread of the coronavirus.”

Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said registration “doesn’t put you first in line for the vaccine” but will help the city “hit the ground running” once vaccine finally does become available.

Although Lightfoot and Arwady said a coronavirus vaccine is not expected until 2021, both added they are already mapping plans to vaccinate the entire city by purchasing syringes and other equipment and choosing locations to administer shots.

And officials are thinking about technology they’ll need to use to link peoples’ symptoms to test results, vaccination and, ultimately, contact tracing.

Contract tracing involves tracing everyone that a person who tested positive for the coronavirus has been in contact with; the practice is viewed as a crucial step to safely re-open the Chicago economy.

As for privacy concerns, Arwady said her team has “done a lot to make sure that all of the appropriate protections are in place.” Information provided by Chicagoans who register will only be “accessible to the Chicago Department of Public Health,” she said.

“No plans for Google, for example, to be able to collect that information. No plans to share it, except for the work that CDPH is doing in partnership with clinicians to make sure that people are getting the care, the testing and the vaccination for COVID-19 that is required,” Arwady said.

The commissioner acknowledged using the app as a springboard to do contact tracing is “one of the spaces that we’re exploring.” When people register, they’ll be asked how many people live in their household. Arwady called the question a “first step” toward contact tracing.

“We’re talking with the developers about the possibility, for example, to be able to send an alert to my contacts — to have that be part of the conversation. None of that is built into it right now,” Arwady said.

“As we’re making our plans for contact tracing, a lot of that is sort of boots-on-the-ground — or at least people on the telephone calling, doing long conversations with individuals, understanding who’s at risk and then, following up with them. We definitely think that technology plays some role in this and that the app may very well be a piece of that.”

Lightfoot noted cities around the world are developing apps specifically for contact tracing. She said she talked Monday with the mayor of Hamburg, Germany.

“The German government is working on an app that will automatically be able to do and facilitate contact tracing on the basis of proximity to somebody who is subsequently tested positive. The app will collect information about who you’ve been in contact with, then automatically send out an alert,” Lightfoot said.

“Technology is the real tool that we’re gonna need to effectively do contact tracing. We’ll be looking to examples from anywhere that we think really have a lot of possibilities for us here in Chicago.”

For now, those who register for the app will get: text messages tailored to their symptoms; information about where and when to seek medical care and alerts about where and when testing is available. Anti-body testing is still being developed, but will be included once it is available.

The app can be accessed at www.Chicago.gov/covidcoach via smartphone or desktop computer. It is web-based, so there is no need to download anything.

Chicagoans are advised to check the city’s coronavirus website — www.Chicago.gov/coronavirus — for the statistics on coronavirus cases and deaths and for information on the city’s response.