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New COVID‑19 screening app born from necessity and collaboration

Posted by Decklan Rolle on October 28, 2020 in Dal Health Achievements

The Faculty of Health at Dalhousie University is fortunate to have the opportunity of having in-person classes for their students to attend. But, prior to attending face-to-face classes, students had to fill out an online form before each class to make sure that they aren’t showing any symptoms of COVID-19. A new COVID-19 pre-screening application makes this process easier and more accessible to faculty and students from their computer or mobile device. 

2nd year OT students talk to Dal Health comm intern Decklan Rolle about the F2F part of learning  

In early summer, as the return to campus planning intensified for the Faculty of Health, Associate Directors Diane MacKenzie and Derek Rutherford, of the Schools of Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy respectively, recognized the need to streamline COVID-19 pre-screening to maximize face-to-face learning opportunities and ensure the safety of learners, faculty and clinical staff returning to campus.

“Aside from our administrative duties, we also teach in face-to-face encounters, so we were acutely aware of the new additions required to be safe and COVID-19 compliant in our face-to-face encounters,” Dr. MacKenzie said.

The associate directors envisioned a mobile application which would be embedded into the Brightspace learning management system. The embedded app could be accessed remotely for COVID-19 pre-screening with students and faculty and could provide instant notifications of whether they can come to campus. The resulting data could then be stored for streamlined contact tracing should the need arise, and information would be available for processes to follow should COVID-19 be suspected.

Drs. Rutherford and MacKenzie have been completing the Academic Leadership Certificate program at Dalhousie. The program allowed them to connect with a colleague from the Faculty of Computer Science with their idea, and through this connection, they were introduced to Matt Peachey, a fourth-year student in the Faculty of Computer Science.

“I got involved with this project thanks to the relationship I've formed with one of my professors here at Dal. He recognized my ability to be able to create a robust web application and asked if I would be interested in helping with the project. I was responsible for all of the technical aspects of the project,” Peachey said.

Peachey and the two Dal Health faculty worked vigorously to develop and test this new electronic application. The goal of the application was to develop an efficient solution to support students to complete the pre-screen, decrease the entrance and screening time required prior to entry into the building, and have an electronic record for tracking purposes.

A screenshot of the Dal Health COVID-19 Pre-Screening App 

Each week since the summer, a Faculty of Health return to campus committee comes together to plan and strategize the return of student within the program. “A significant part of our role in the past eight months has been to get our Schools on track for the return of our accredited entry to practice programs, including a return to campus for face-to-face learning experiences,” Dr. Rutherford said. Through this committee, the full development of this application materialized, and it became the pre-screen standard for all Faculty of Health, return-to campus teaching experiences this fall term.

How the app works

Using the link that is placed in the students’ Brightspace course, students complete the prescreen questions either on their computer or mobile device on the day of their face-to-face encounter. These questions resemble those developed by Nova Scotia Health. Once the student has submitted the form, they receive an immediate response to their Dal email address advising if they are able or not able to attend the class they have identified in the form. 

As for the faculty, before each class they receive the summary result for each student who completes the screen. Faculty members can then take the Excel sheet to their on-campus course to check-off students as they come into class.

“We are very fortunate to have access to this program and are grateful to Diane MacKenzie and Derek Rutherford for their leadership in bringing the app to fruition. Each School/College with face-to-face classes is expected to adopt the program as an efficient, quick, and data-driven means to ensure the health, wellbeing, and safety of our students and instructors,” said Dr. Brenda Merritt, Dean of Faculty of Health.