Sonoma County balances public health with economic vitality

By and Aisha Walcott | 2 minute read | September 22, 2020

Sonoma County

With a COVID-19 vaccine still in the future, public health officials and community leaders face a difficult decision. How can we balance the wellness of our people with the need to restore economic vitality?

In Sonoma County, we’ve taken several steps. These include ramping up COVID-19 testing capacity, ensuring that businesses maintain physical distancing, requiring Sonoma County community members to wear PPE, and making sure that businesses perform hygienic sanitation. But to help employees reenter the workplace and businesses operate safely, we wanted to do more.

Fast development of SoCo COVID-19 Check app

Our solution is the SoCo COVID-19 Check app. Developed with IBM Services, the app helps employees, students, or anyone who is going out into the public, to perform a basic health check that helps identify if they’re at risk of having the virus. Working on iOS and Android phones in English and Spanish, the app aims to prevent and mitigate the spread of the disease in Sonoma County.

Due to the urgency of the COVID-19 public health emergency, IBM marshalled forces for fast, agile development. In just over three weeks, the IBM team and the county’s public health officer were able to progress from app concept and design to the development, testing and posting of phase 1 to the Apple and Google App stores.

Simple steps to help promote safety

Here’s how the app works. Each day before leaving home for work, employees complete a 30-second self-assessment. Users must verify that their temperature is below 100.0 degrees F and check for COVID-19 symptoms as defined by the CDC. They’re also asked to report any exposure to infected individuals within the past 24 hours.

If the assessment checks out, the app presents a badge that says “Thank you, wellness check complete! Please share this screen with your employer” along with the date the check was performed. They are also reminded to wear appropriate face covering and maintain 6 feet social distancing. Any red flags bring up a screen advising employees to stay home and contact their healthcare provider.

The assessment is communicated to the employer, who must verify the employee’s temperature and that they’re wearing approved face coverings. The app collects COVID-19 information anonymously and shares it with the health office for insights into community wellness.

To keep users informed, the app features a news feed of COVID-19 information from local health services, the State of California and the CDC. A simple dashboard makes it easy to push out the latest bulletins in real time. We’re really excited about this feature because people want as much information as possible, and employers need to understand the importance of the wellness check.

Providing valuable health intelligence

We continue to work with IBM to improve the app. A planned move is to integrate Watson Assistant, a virtual agent that understands COVID-19 questions in voice or text and answers in natural language. Configured with information on the US national level, the virtual agent enables us to add local information and links.

The SoCo COVID-19 Health Check app provides insights that can help businesses operate safely. We expect its wellness features will instill confidence among the people of Sonoma County—a critical factor to restoring economic vitality.