Use and development of software for COVID-19 pandemic mitigation
Various kinds of software have been developed and used for mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic. These include mobile apps for contact tracing and notifications about infection risks, digital passports verifying one's vaccination status, software for enabling – or improving the effectiveness of – lockdowns and social distancing in general, Web software for the creation of related information services, and software for the research and development for COVID-19 mitigation.
COVID-19 apps include mobile-software applications for digital contact-tracing - i.e. the process of identifying persons ("contacts") who may have been in contact with an infected individual - deployed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Numerous tracing applications have been developed or proposed, with official government support in some territories and jurisdictions. Several frameworks for building contact-tracing apps have been developed. Privacy concerns have been raised, especially about systems that are based on tracking the geographical location of app users.
Less overtly intrusive alternatives include the co-option of Bluetooth signals to log a user's proximity to other cellphones. (Bluetooth technology has form in tracking cell-phones' locations.) On 10 April 2020, Google and Apple jointly announced that they would integrate functionality to support such Bluetooth-based apps directly into their Android and iOS operating systems. India's COVID-19 tracking app Aarogya Setu became the world's fastest growing application - beating Pokémon Go - with 50 million users in the first 13 days of its release. (Full article...)
Many different contact tracing apps have been developed. Design decisions such as those relating to the users' privacy and data-storage and -security vary between the apps. In most cases the different apps are not interoperable which may reduce their effectiveness when multiple apps are used within a country or when people travel across national borders. It has been suggested that building a single open-source app (or a small set of such) that is usable by all, ensures interoperability, and is developed as a robust app everyone is putting their energy into – for a bundled work force, standardized optimal design and combined maximum innovative capacity, would have been preferable to such highly parallel development.
Use and effectiveness
An unincentivized and always entirely voluntary use of such digital contact tracing apps by the public was found to be low even if the apps are built to preserve privacy, leading to low usefulness of the software for pandemic mitigation as of April 2021. A lack of possible features and persistent, prevalent errors reduced their usefulness further. Use of such an app in general or during specific times is in many or all cases not provable.
Some apps also allow "check-ins" that enable contact tracing and exposure notifications after entering public venues such as fitness centres. One such example is the We-Care project, a novel initiative by University of California, Davis researchers that uses anonymity and crowdsourced information, to which check-ins are essential, to alert infected users and slow the spread of COVID-19.
Digital vaccination certificates
Digital vaccine passports and vaccination certificates are and use software for verifying a person's coronavirus vaccination status.
Such certificates may enable vaccinated persons to get access to events, buildings and services in the public such as airplanes, concert venues and health clubs and travel across borders. This may enable partial reopenings. Lawrence Gostin stated that there is enormous economic and social incentive for such proof of vaccinations.
Hurdles and ethical implications
COVID-19 vaccines are usually distributed based on infection risks and granting privileges based on vaccination-status certification has some ethical implications, like any of the other mechanisms/factors by which society grants privileges to individuals. For instance, privileges based on vaccination-status may lead to people not at high risk of COVID-19 infection or of a severe prognosis of the disease to obtain a large share of the limited supply of vaccination doses (via society's mechanisms of finance) and the vaccinated people to be granted permissions that could be seen as "unfair" by unvaccinated people. Moreover, such certificates could require a set of tamper-proof, privacy-respecting, verifiable, authenticity-ensuring, data-validity-ensuring, secure digital certification technologies – robust digital signature cryptography-based software that may not exist yet. Furthermore, such privileging mechanisms may exacerbate inequality, increase risks of deliberate infections or transmission, and depend or increase dependence on inoculation preventing COVID-19 transmission which the WHO considers to still be an uncertainty. The public health justification of avoiding preventable sickness or death of others may not be shared or communicated effectively to significant parts of the population. A large share of elderly do not have smartphones which many digital vaccination certificates designs may rely on.
Several groups have stated that common standards are important and that a single common and optimal standard for each purpose would be best. As no adequate technical swift mechanisms for its collective design – or establishing firm consensus for it – exists, some teams are developing cross-compatible solutions. Likewise, the design and development of such technologies is highly parallel, rather than collaborative, efficient and integrative. Governments often like to ensure data sovereignty. According to some experts, national governments should have developed – or helped to develop – a standardized, secure, digital proof of vaccination earlier. In the U.S. such digital certificates are being developed by the private sector, with a large number of different solutions being produced by small corporate teams and no vaccinations database being designed by state-funded organizations. Development of many solutions may lead to a large number of security vulnerabilities and no highly robust, privacy-respecting, extendable, performant and interoperable software which, however, may be developed, improved or become a standard years after the large number of apps are published and used. Saskia Popescu and Alexandra Phelan argue that "any moves to institute vaccine passports must be coordinated internationally".
The WHO has established a – small and nonparticipative – "working group focused on establishing standards for a common architecture for a digital smart vaccination certificate to support vaccine(s) against COVID-19 and other immunizations".
The COVID-19 Credentials Initiative hosted by Linux Foundation Public Health (LFPH) is a global initiative working to develop and deploy privacy-preserving, tamper-evident and verifiable credential certification projects based on the open standard Verifiable Credentials (VCs).
Cybersecurity expert Laurin Weissinger argues that it's important for such software to be fully free and open source, to clarify concepts and designs timely, to have it penetration-tested by security experts and to communicate which and how data is collected and processed as such would be needed to build required trust. Jenny Wanger, director of programs at the Linux Foundation, also contends that is essential for such software to be open source. ACLU senior policy analyst Jay Stanley affirms this notion and warns that an "architecture that is not good for transparency, privacy, or user control" could set a "bad standard" for future apps and systems that host credentials.
In Israel, Estonia and Iceland such passports are already being used. In other places like New York pilot programs are being run. Many other countries and unions are considering or planning for such passports and/or certificates.
Software for remote work, distance education, telemedicine, product delivery, eGovernment and videoconferencing
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Web software has been used to inform the public about the latest state of the pandemic. Wikipedia and COVID-19 dashboards were used widely for obtaining aggregated, integrated and reliable information about the pandemic.
The Wikimedia project Scholia provides a graphical interface around data in Wikidata – such as literature about a specific coronavirus protein – which may help with research, research-analysis, making data interoperable, automated applications, regular updates, and data-mining.
A multitude of diverse websites were consulted by citizens proactively striving to learn which activities were allowed and which disallowed – such as the times during which curfews apply – which changed continuously throughout the pandemic and also varied by location.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of online archivists have used the open access PHP- and Linux-based shadow library Sci-Hub to create an archive of over 5000 articles about coronaviruses. They confirmed that making the archive openly accessible is currently illegal, but consider it a moral imperative. Sci-Hub provides free full access for most scientific publications about the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, multiple legacy scientific publishers have created open access portals, including the Cambridge University Press, the Europe branch of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, The Lancet, John Wiley and Sons, and Springer Nature.
This section needs expansion with: Content regarding apps for citizen science from its respective article, and the article on the pandemic's impacts on STEM, particularly bulleted lists. You can help by adding to it. (September 2021)
The open source, Qt- and GTK-based GNU Health has a variety of default features already built in that makes it useful during pandemics. As the software is open source, it allows many different parties to pool efforts on an existing single integrated program – instead of different programs for different purposes or different clients and multiple programs for each purpose – to enhance its usefulness during the pandemic as well as adapting it to their needs. Already existing features include a way for the clinical information to be made available and get updated immediately in any health institution via the unique "Person Universal ID", lab test report templates and functionalities, functionality for digital signing and encryption of data as well as storage of medical records. Theoretically, the software could be used or modified to aid e.g. COVID-19 testing and research about COVID-19 as securely sharing anonymized patient treatments, medical history and individual outcomes – including by common primary care physicians – may speed up such research and clinical trials. The software has been considered as a possible backbone of a robust, sustainable public health infrastructure based on cooperation.
Software for COVID-19 testing
In Bavaria, Germany a delay in communicating 44,000 test-results was caused by the lack of use or preparatory setup or development of required software.
Software is being used to manage to distribution of vaccines, which have to be kept cold, and to record which individuals already received a – and which – vaccination. A lack of use or preparatory setup or development of required software caused delays and other problems.
In China, Web-technologies were used to screen and direct individuals to appropriate resources. In Taiwan, infrared thermal cameras were used in airports to rapidly detect individuals with fever. Machine learning has been used for rapid diagnosis and risk prediction of COVID-19.
Electronic monitoring hard- and software has been to ensure and verify infected individuals' adherence to quarantine. However, solutions based on mobile apps have been found to be insufficient. Furthermore, various software designs may threaten civil liberties and infringe on privacy.
Nextstrain is an open source platform for pathogen genomic data such as about viral evolution of SARS-CoV-2 and was used widely during the COVID-19 pandemic such as for research about novel variants of SARS-CoV-2.
Data sharing and copyright
In March 2021, a proposal backed by a large number of organizations and prominent researchers and experts and initiated mainly by organizations in India and South Africa, called the international authority World Trade Organization (WTO) to reduce copyright barriers to COVID-19 prevention, containment and treatment. In 2020, professor Sean Flynn, noted that "Only a minority of countries authorize sharing text and data mining databases between researchers needed for collaboration, including across borders."
Scientific software models and simulations for SARS-CoV-2, including spread, functional mechanisms and properties, efficacy of potential treatments, transmission risks, vaccination modelling/monitoring, etc. (computational fluid dynamics, computational epidemiology, computational biology/computational systems biology, ...)
In March 2020, the volunteer distributed computing project Folding@home became the world's first system to reach one exaFLOPS. The system simulates protein folding, was used for medical research on COVID-19 and achieved a speed of approximately 2.43 x86 exaFLOPS by 13 April 2020 – many times faster than the fastest supercomputer to that date Summit.
That same month, the Rosetta@home distributed computing project also joined the effort. The project uses volunteers' computers to model the proteins of SARS-CoV-2 virus to discover potential drug targets or develop new proteins to neutralize the virus. The researchers announced that using Rosetta@home, they were able to "accurately predict the atomic-scale structure of an important coronavirus protein weeks before it could be measured in the lab."
In May 2020, the OpenPandemics—COVID-19 partnership was launched between Scripps Research and IBM's World Community Grid. The partnership is a distributed computing project that "will automatically run a simulated experiment in the background [of connected home PCs] that will help predict the efficacy of a particular chemical compound as a potential treatment for COVID-19."
COVID-19 drug repurposing research and drug development
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (June 2021)
Supercomputers – including the world's fastest single supercomputers Summit and Fugaku – have been used in attempts[clarification needed] to identify potential treatments by running simulations with data on existing, already-approved medications. Two early examples of supercomputer consortia are listed below:
- In March 2020, the United States Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, NASA, industry, and nine universities pooled resources to access supercomputers from IBM, combined with cloud computing resources from Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, for drug discovery. The COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium also aims to forecast disease spread, model possible vaccines, and screen thousands of chemical compounds to design a COVID-19 vaccine or therapy. The Consortium used up 437 petaFLOPS of computing power by May 2020.
- The C3.ai Digital Transformation Institute, an additional consortium of Microsoft, six universities (including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a member of the first consortium), and the National Center for Supercomputer Applications in Illinois, working under the auspices of C3.ai, an artificial intelligence software company, are pooling supercomputer resources toward drug discovery, medical protocol development and public health strategy improvement, as well as awarding large grants to researchers who proposed by May 2020 to use AI to carry out similar tasks.
- Timeline of computing 2020–2029
- Pandemic prevention#Surveillance and mapping
- COVID-19 surveillance
- Information management
- Open-source ventilator
- Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on science and technology#Computing and machine learning research and citizen science
- Public health mitigation of COVID-19#Information technology
- Technology policy
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