A Western student is helping fill a health-information void with a new website that invites Ontarians to input results of their COVID-19 rapid tests.
Since the launch of Rapid Report Ontario less than a week ago, more than 2,500 people have logged information that could fill in gaps in understanding the latest surge in COVID-19 cases.
Site co-creator Elliot Hegel said it’s intended to be a snapshot, albeit an incomplete picture, to help gauge characteristics of the virus in Ontario.
“One of the reasons we created this was that no one else seemed to be doing it. This is important health information to have and we thought, why wait for someone else to do it?” said Hegel, a first-year nursing student who built the site with long-time friend Henry Morris, a Carleton University computer science student.
The Ontario government announced on Dec. 30 that only high-risk patients would be eligible for lab-based PCR tests – tests that confirm positive or negative infection. But that decision both understates COVID numbers and skews results to the most acute cases.
Rapid antigen tests, usually done at home, have been more widely available even if less accurate.
But Public Health Ontario does not collect rapid test results (although British Columbia Health does for that province).
“We’re just trying to create a strong system for collecting data, because we believe this is valuable population-health information in the public’s interest,” Hegel said. “I would like the province to do this and make our site redundant.”
People who have had a rapid antigen test can input their positive or negative results, age range, symptoms, vaccination status and general geography within Ontario. (Users’ names or other identifying details are not requested or collected.)
When individual results are aggregated, that data can provide valuable insights, Hegel said.
It can be used by future researchers to understand, for example, which demographic and geographic areas of Ontario have access to (or lack) rapid tests; or whether symptoms are different among fully or partially vaccinated or unvaccinated people.
Hegel noted he and Morris created the site in less than a day.
At the same time, Hegel has been working about 50 hours a week in an Ottawa hospital’s COVID-screening and vaccination clinic and will return to his studies at Western later this month.
“This website was not something I’d expected to do,” he said, but it will keep running as long as there’s interest.