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Coronavirus Spurs New Interest in Citizen Science Projects

Crowdsourcing could play a key role in contact tracing as the novel coronavirus continues to spread. (Adobe Stock)
Crowdsourcing could play a key role in contact tracing as the novel coronavirus continues to spread. (Adobe Stock)
June 10, 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. -- More people are showing interest in citizen science projects to help shed light on the novel coronavirus and the ways it spreads within communities.

Calvin Cupini, citizen science manager for Clean Air Carolina, said crowd-sourcing projects have been a critical source of data on air pollution, especially in marginalized communities. He said several ongoing projects allow individuals to report their COVID symptoms in real time.

"One of the most interesting I find is called COVID Near You," he said. "It's actually an adaptation of an app called Flu Near You, which had the express intent of crowdsourcing people's flu symptoms to get a better understanding of where flu seasons were impacting the most people."

He also mentioned FoldIt, a free puzzle-solving game that allows users to help researchers discover new antiviral drugs that might have the potential to stop the coronavirus. For a list of citizen science resources related to the pandemic, look online at citizenscience.org.

Cupini said he believes citizen science efforts can also impact environmental justice and health equity. He noted that the Covid Racial Data Tracker was launched by journalists at The Atlantic as data emerged to indicate the coronavirus disproportionately was affecting people of color.

"I think each of us now thinks a lot more like a scientist," he said. "People care about what would otherwise be very complicated, epidemiological topics."

He added that, to date, crowd-sourcing projects also have been used to funnel donations of personal protective equipment to local hospitals and to combat misinformation about COVID-19.

COVID Near You is online at covidnearyou.org, FoldIt is at fold.it, the COVID Racial Data Tracker is at covidtracking.com/race, PPE Crowdsourcing is at coda.io, and the COVID Misinformation Tracking Center is at newsguardtech.com.

Disclosure: Clean Air Carolina contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment and Environmental Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC