As an emergency physician, Megan Ranney is used to dealing with hard questions about injury and illness. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, she has found herself scrambling for answers. “I kept getting asked by people whether it was safe to do certain activities,” says Ranney. “‘Is it safe to go to the beach, or to an outdoor party or a restaurant?’”
Millions have struggled with the same questions throughout 2020. Scientists and clinicians are still learning about the epidemiology and pathology of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and, for the public, it can be difficult to understand how to maintain some semblance of normality while minimizing the risk of infection.
As co-director of the Brown-Lifespan Center for Digital Health in Providence, Rhode Island, Ranney saw an opportunity to use her expertise in developing online tools for public health. Working with her Brown-Lifespan colleague Elizabeth Goldberg, she developed MyCOVIDRisk, a simple, questionnaire-based web app that gives users a sense of their infection risk on the basis of their planned activity in a specific place or situation.