Education

App developed by Duke students traces contacts of coronavirus patients

Posted April 1, 2020 1:52 p.m. EDT
Updated April 1, 2020 3:07 p.m. EDT

— A team of Duke University students has created an app that they believe could play a role in stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

Anyone who tests positive for the virus can enter that information into the "ContainIt" app, which then notifies people who have been in close contact with that person so they can quarantine themselves, according to Duke freshman Shehzan Maredia, the lead developer on the app.

The app uses cellphone location data to identify who has been in close contact with the infected person.

"We’re storing all data locally on your phone [to eliminate privacy concerns]. We’re using similar methods that have been used in other countries around the world to do contact tracing successfully," said Maredia, a computer science and math major. "If they later on self-report that they tested positive, [the app] will look at everyone they’ve been in close contact with over a period of time and notify them."

The free app should be available for download next week.

"With this app, you can help other people in your community stay informed," said Duke junior Alyssa Nicholas, who is marketing ContainIt. "In these small towns, it’s hard to understand how the virus is being spread and how can we really understand that spread. Especially on a local level, it can keep you informed and give you the most valid data on where you are, and I think that’s really helpful for people."

The app isn't part of any classwork. Maredia said the student team worked on it on their own time.

"We believe in the cause. That’s why we’re doing this," he said. "The whole goal of this app is to have scale."

The group has talked with local government officials and health organizations to help deploy it, he said.

ContainIt doesn't identify who has tested positive when it notifies others, telling them only that someone they have been in recent contact with has the virus.

"If someone does test positive, it can immediately be used to help contain the spread," Maredia said.

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