- Research from a team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, published in the IEEE Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology, suggests artificial intelligence may be able to determine whether an individual has coronavirus based on the sound of a forced cough, according to The 74.
- Researchers found technology can determine who is positive for the virus by sound differences undetectable to the human ear, recorded through a smartphone speaker.
- The team is hoping to offer its system on a free app, The 74 reports, noting that it could help schools and other organizations reopen safely by allowing them to test for asymptomatic carriers of the virus in a non-invasive way, if approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
In the past year, districts have had to grapple with how to safely reopen schools and keep them open. Many have decided to stick to remote learning models well into the 2020-21 school year. The Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, opted to keep schools closed after 5% of adults and 10% of the students in its testing program were positive for COVID-19 but asymptomatic.
Some districts are now voluntarily testing all students, including those who are asymptomatic, to mitigate virus spread during in-person learning. In D.C. Public Schools, a pilot program voluntarily tests students every 10 days. Staff working in-person receive an at-home testing kit, but they are not required to use it.
Proponents of in-school testing say it could create an early warning system to avoid a community outbreak. A report by the Rockefeller Foundation shows the benefits of reducing transmission through testing and considers the costs and how to manage “false positive” results.
Before using technology and apps to mitigate the coronavirus spread in schools, however, it is important to consider that measures like at-school testing or contract tracing pose challenges to student privacy. Students’ privacy is still protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
A white paper from the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) suggests contract tracing technology could erode student privacy. The STOP paper says manual contact tracing is more effective than tech-based tracing efforts, with which privacy is largely dependent upon the protections in place by the vendors behind the tools.
Based on CDC guidance issued last spring, administrators should also ensure educators understand the importance of maintaining confidentiality around confirmed positive cases to avoid stigma and discrimination.
Still, strong coronavirus prevention methods, such as testing and contact tracing, can boost educators’ confidence about returning to work.