Become a citizen scientist and join the fight against COVID-19 (Archived May 17, 2021)
How can we help?
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We all have a natural human impulse to help at times of need. For many of us, that need is frustrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve done what we can (like Otterbein’s donation and production of PPE), but only a few of us can participate in that. Unless we are medical professionals equipped to help the sick, our jobs are clear – stay at home. It is the right thing to do, but can feel like inaction at a time of great need.
There is, however, something we can all do. We are encouraging all members of the Otterbein Community to participate in Citizen Science. The new system 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, working with ZOE – a health science company. It is featured in news articles from CNN World and the BBC, among others.
Participating is simple and safe. You download the COVID-19 Symptom Tracker app and open it each day to report your symptoms or lack of symptoms. Doing so will help track COVID-19’s spread, until wide-spread rapid testing is available.
Read on to learn more about this initiative and to see messages from one of the researchers behind this app, Dr. Andrew Chan, and from Otterbein faculty who explain why this project is so important.
John L. Comerford, PhD
President of Otterbein University
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Also on this page:
Dr. Andrew Chan & the COVID-19 Symptom Tracker App
“Thank you Otterbein University! Our COVID Symptom Tracker app is a great way for EVERYONE, ANYWHERE to take just a few minutes a day to report on their health, even if they feel well. This information can be used to quickly identify hotspots and areas where we need to deploy our resources to fight this battle. We need data from as many people as possible! Send the app over to at least 10 of your friends, and so on! Spread information, not the virus!”
Andrew Chan, MD, MPH, lead researcher
Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Chief of the Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit, CTEU Massachusetts General Hospital
Video from Dr. Andy Chan, Harvard Medical School
Citizen Science at Otterbein: Knowledge, Action, & the Public Good
“Citizen Science” is a term used by science educators to describe a collaboration between scientists and members of the general public. Often, people assist scientists in collecting data so that the scientific study can extend its reach and therefore potential impact. For example, if you’ve ever participated in a “Bio Blitz,” by counting animal species in a particular area of land on a particular day or series of days, you may have been engaged in citizen science. Visit the Citizen Science Association website to learn more.
Knowledge, Action, and The Public Good
Otterbein’s Integrative Studies program is organized around the theme of “Knowledge, Action, and the Public Good.” Across our four-year curriculum, we ask our students to consider complicated issues and to explore their own agency in solving societal problems. We also think it’s important for everyone to consider their own values and the potential impact their actions have on others on others in contemplating the role they want to play in their own communities. If you participate in the COVID-19 Symptom-Tracker study, you will contribute to scientific research on how this disease seems to be moving through and impacting different populations. In return, you sacrifice a little bit of time and some personal information, but know that your participation in this study is voluntary and your privacy and rights are protected, as outlined in the study’s IRB materials.
“If you participate in the COVID-19 Symptom-Tracker study, you will contribute to scientific research on how this disease seems to be moving through and impacting different populations.”
About Coronaviruses and COVID-19
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause common colds as well as other more severe respiratory illnesses such as the first outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). Viruses are not considered by most scientists to be alive. They are instead considered “obligate intracellular parasites” that require a host cell for their replication. The virus turns the host cell into a “virus production factory”. All viruses are composed of a nucleic acid (DNA or RNA) and a protein coat, referred to as a capsid. The nucleic acid surrounded by its protein coat is referred to as a nucleocapsid. Some viruses also possess a third component called an envelope that surrounds the capsid. The envelope is typically derived from the host cell membrane and is attained while the virus buds out of the cell. The virus can thus disguise itself to evade the immune system of the host organism by acting as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”. The novel Coronavirus that causes COVID-19 referred to as SARS-CoV-2 is a single-stranded RNA virus that possesses a host cell-derived envelope surrounding its capsid. The envelope of this virus is covered with spikes that give it a crown-like appearance and hence the name “corona”. RNA viruses such as influenza viruses and coronaviruses tend to mutate much more quickly than DNA viruses, making it tougher to produce an effective vaccine.
Dr. Jennifer Bennett
Department of Biology & Earth Science at Otterbein
“RNA viruses such as influenza viruses and coronaviruses tend to mutate much more quickly than DNA viruses, making it tougher to produce an effective vaccine.”
How Citizen Science Serves Public Health
Public health has always been about disease surveillance while supporting positive healthy behaviors. In times like these, though, we need everyone to step-up and participate in the monitoring of this virus. That is why we are asking you, the concerned citizen, to report your daily symptoms. Why do we ask for your participation? Simply put, by you completing this daily 1-minute survey, this app can help identify high-risk areas, meaning, where are the COVID-19 “hot spots” located and how fast is this virus spreading throughout our communities. If we can identify those geographical areas, we can offer support and services to those vulnerable neighborhoods sooner. In addition, not only to identify those areas where COVID-19 is present, but to monitor the symptoms people feel (daily) in an attempt to link these symptoms to underlying health conditions.
Dr. Robert Braun
Department of Health & Sport Science at Otterbein
“In times like these… we need everyone to step-up and participate in the monitoring of this virus.”
The Importance of Staying at Home
The number that is most concerning to epidemiologist is the R0 (pronounced R-Naught) of a pathogen. This is simply the number of new infections that are generated by each infection. If over 1, the outbreak continues to grow and if below 1, the outbreak will sputter to a halt as more infections end without further spread. Currently, the best estimate for COVID-19’s R0 is 2.5, meaning somewhere between 2 and 3 people are infected by every new case and the outbreak is growing (this is about 2x the R0 of the seasonal flu but nowhere close to the measles’ R0 of 18 ).
A pathogen’s R0 is not some immutable number however, it can change depending on our actions. By working from home, canceling classes, closing non-essential businesses, wearing masks, and limiting contacts with others, we can bring the R0 of COVID-19 to under 1. As there is no current vaccine or effective treatment, staying home is truly the best thing you can do for your community.
Dr. Andrew Callinger-Yoak
Department of Biology & Earth Science at Otterbein
“As there is no current vaccine or effective treatment, staying home is truly the best thing you can do for your community.”
Handwashing and Sanitizers Decrease the Risk of Infection
Among the things that people can do to help stop the spread of the virus are handwashing and using hand sanitizers. The coronavirus has a coat of lipids (oils) and proteins that surround its RNA core. Using ordinary hand soap and warm water and thoroughly washing your hands for 20 seconds exposes the virus to the detergent in hand soap. This breaks up the viral particles and washes them away, decreasing the risk that a virus will be shared or be inhaled. Hands should be washed frequently but especially after being potentially exposed, for example after getting groceries. If you can’t wash your hands right away, another option is using hand sanitizer. The active ingredient in hand sanitizer is alcohol and it needs to be at least 60% for the sanitizer to work. The alcohol works similarly to the detergent in hand soap, and helps break up virus particles.
Dr. John Tansey
Department of Chemistry and
Program in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at Otterbein
“Using ordinary hand soap and warm water and thoroughly washing your hands for 20 seconds exposes the virus to the detergent in hand soap… decreasing the risk that a virus will be shared or be inhaled.”