Jay A. Pandit, Jennifer M. Radin, Giorgio Quer & Eric J. Topol
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, analog tools such as nasopharyngeal swabs for PCR tests were center stage and the major prevention tactics of masking and physical distancing were a throwback to the 1918 influenza pandemic. Overall, there has been scant regard for digital tools, particularly those based on smartphone apps, which is surprising given the ubiquity of smartphones across the globe. Smartphone apps, given accessibility in the time of physical distancing, were widely used for tracking, tracing and educating the public about COVID-19. Despite limitations, such as concerns around data privacy, data security, digital health illiteracy and structural inequities, there is ample evidence that apps are beneficial for understanding outbreak epidemiology, individual screening and contact tracing. While there were successes and failures in each category, outbreak epidemiology and individual screening were substantially enhanced by the reach of smartphone apps and accessory wearables. Continued use of apps within the digital infrastructure promises to provide an important tool for rigorous investigation of outcomes both in the ongoing outbreak and in future epidemics.