Swipe left to ‘save lives:’ New app wants you to report people not wearing masks

·2 min read

Instead of swiping right for your next date, you can now swipe left to let local researchers and public health professionals know when someone near you is not wearing a face mask.

MaskCount is a new, web-based app that allows users to “easily and anonymously” document the number of people wearing or not wearing face coverings. Its purpose? To help understand local outbreaks and inform policy decisions based on real-time data.

But don’t worry, there’s no way to identify people by name or with a photo, the developers say.

While research has proven face masks aid in preventing the spread of viruses, little is known about how people actually use them in real life. Researchers at the Regenstrief Institute, an international medical research nonprofit associated with Indiana University, said they want people to “swipe and save lives” and “fight COVID-19 with data.”

“MaskCount is not about reporting good or bad behavior. It is about documenting what is happening to help generate scientific evidence that can help us understand how to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” the developers wrote on their website. “By doing so, we hope to enable many people to contribute to the fight against COVID-19 by becoming citizen-scientists and joining together!”

In the app, users can see where they stand on a map as they walk around. If they come across a person or group of people wearing or not wearing masks, users can simply swipe left for “no mask” and right for “mask,” then select how many people were seen.

Percentages are stamped on top of markers pinned to specific locations: lower percentages with red markers designate areas with low to no mask use while higher percentages with teal markers indicate consistent mask-wearing.
Percentages are stamped on top of markers pinned to specific locations: lower percentages with red markers designate areas with low to no mask use while higher percentages with teal markers indicate consistent mask-wearing.

Users can also see the data others have collected in their area. Percentages are stamped on top of markers pinned to specific locations: lower percentages with red markers designate areas with low to no mask use while higher percentages with teal markers indicate consistent mask-wearing.

If someone’s mask fails to cover both their nose and mouth, then that’s also a swipe left, the researchers said.

The data points are immediately sent to Regenstrief research scientists who combine, organize and analyze the information. The team also plans to add a built-in feature “very soon” that allows public health agencies, schools and other companies to create “teams” to collaborate and conduct research projects with the data, according to the website.

Although mask-wearing is strongly recommended during the pandemic, the researchers said they “recognize that there are times where it is perfectly safe and appropriate to not wear a mask even out in public — such as when someone is outdoors and safely distanced from others.”

The app allows users to identify if the mask behavior is occurring indoors or outdoors, but it doesn’t offer the option to indicate if wearers or non-wearers are socially distancing, Peter Embi, president of Regenstrief and creator of MaskCount, told the Indianapolis Star.

The browser-based app is free, can run on Apple, Android and other smart devices and is available in 15 languages.

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