How a COVID-19 app built at U-Michigan is helping businesses stay open

New real-time employer dashboards provide “live-feed of data” as employees report their symptoms while also safeguarding users’ data privacy.

A COVID-19 symptom checklist web app developed at the University of Michigan is helping more than 2,500 employers, including small businesses, in Michigan meet state requirements to screen employees before they enter the workplace each day. 

MI Symptoms was built by a team of faculty, staff, alumni and students from the U-M College of Engineering and the School of Public Health as part of a broader effort to 

provide expertise, data and tools to inform state and industry decision makers as well as the public during the pandemic. 

Since it was released in May, more than 50,000 Michiganders have built profiles and every day, more than 16,000 use it. 

The team has recently released an update that provides real-time employer dashboards through the web app, in addition to the end-of-the-day emailed reports that the previous system provided. 

“This update makes it easier for employers to meet the current state requirements that staff showing up for work in person must be screened for COVID-19 symptoms every day,” said Dan Maletta, executive director of information technology at Michigan Engineering who co-led the tool’s development. “It offers employers a live feed of data as employees report their symptoms.”

One of the questions used by MI Symptoms asks users to enter their body temperature. Enlarge
One of the questions used by MI Symptoms asks users to enter their body temperature.

The web app is designed to eventually help state public health officials and employers identify new outbreaks earlier than they could through the use of testing data alone. It can take two to five days for COVID-19 results to be available after testing. But MI Symptoms shows where and when new symptoms are cropping up as the data is collected. 

“To help local public health officers reduce the spread of COVID-19, we have created a dashboard for them that plots the symptom data from thousands of Michiganders across the state. They can identify places with a higher frequency of symptoms and reach out to businesses and organizations in that area to suggest getting tested. In this pandemic, getting ahead of the spread is one way to stop big outbreaks,” said Sharon Kardia, professor of epidemiology and associate dean for education at U-M’s School of Public Health.

The web app is not used for contact tracing, and it does not track users’ locations or movements through GPS or Bluetooth. 

“The team is very much aware that we need to put the highest priorities on safeguarding users’ and employers’ data privacy,” said Sugih Jamin, associate professor of computer science and engineering. “We have worked very hard to ensure that our systems align with the state’s guidance on data protection. Collected data is not even shared with the state’s labor and occupational safety departments.”

More than 30 students, staff and faculty members from engineering contributed to developing the web app. 

“MI Symptoms has been an incredible way for us to help keep individuals safe and businesses open across the state of Michigan during the pandemic,” said Kirtana Choragudi, technical lead on the web app development and a student studying computer science and business administration. “Each member of our team now has an understanding of the real-time benefits of precision public health as well as experience building a product through rapidly shifting requirements and with multiple stakeholders.”