W&M leads collaboration on new virtual tool to support health and wellness

August 2020 W&M; William & Mary led a collaboration with universities throughout Virginia to develop a virtual tool to support the health and wellness of students, faculty and staff this fall.

W&M’s tool, called the Daily Health Check, will be part of its Healthy Together module available via the university’s mobile application and website. The module includes several features to help users account for healthy habits and monitor their physical health during the COVID-19 pandemic. The free and open-source tool complies with all legal and privacy requirements; it was designed for any and all universities in the Commonwealth easily to adapt to their systems.

A culture of compliance

William & Mary will direct all students, faculty and staff, on and off campus, to take the Daily Health Check’s four-question survey to monitor their own health and to account for actions that could contribute to the well-being of others, like wearing a mask, physical distancing, avoiding large crowds and washing hands frequently and thoroughly.

Participation will be enforced for all members of the community. Students and employees will get a daily prompt, followed by a push reminder if they have not completed a daily check within 48 hours. If the check is not completed within 72 hours, additional measures will be taken to ensure compliance – some of the individual’s W&M IT services may be temporarily frozen until they confirm they have completed the necessary steps.

“We are creating a culture of compliance that requires community members to take an active role in their personal health and wellness,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler. “We do that partly by setting clear expectations and also empowering people with the tools and information they need to be compliant. If you are going to be on our campus this fall, the Daily Health Check will become a part of your regular routine.”

“We also can’t underestimate the impact of being in a supportive campus environment for our students’ ability to thrive and flourish,” she added. “When they are in an environment where they see people around them doing the things that support our ability to persist, that’s going to be reassuring and will support the mental health of our community.”

A suite of technological resources

For users who may be showing symptoms of COVID-19 or who are not practicing healthy habits, the Daily Health Check will provide specialized guidance.

“The great thing about this tool is that we can easily pivot based on results,” said W&M Chief Technology Officer Corinne Picataggi. “If we want to increase the frequency of follow-up, we can do that.” 

Protecting privacy is imperative at William & Mary, Picataggi said. She explained that the data is collected in a way that protects user privacy. The university is tracking whether an individual uses the app, but does not access the specific information they provide during their daily health checks.

In addition to the survey, the Healthy Together module will feature links to essential resources in support of public health efforts, including: 

  • COVIDWISE – A smart phone application developed by the Virginia Department of Health for COVID-19 exposure notification.
  • Bite by Sodexo – An app that will allow students to order food online for pickup at one of W&M’s dining halls.
  • Space Finder – A digital resource that will measure crowd density at the university’s public spaces, such as the dining halls and Swem Library. This will help students avoid crowded spaces.
  • Kallaco – A mobile app from the national lab network that will allow users to track COVID-19 tests.

These applications, along with an array of other resources, are intended to help members of the W&M community make healthy decisions to benefit not only themselves but also the greater university and local communities. 

“To be successful this year, we must make a commitment to each other,” Picataggi said. “This tool reminds us to make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing to help the community stay well.”

A collaborative approach to innovative tools

While the tool is intended for internal use, William & Mary helped other universities in the Commonwealth develop their own tools similar to the Daily Health Check.

A team sponsored by the Virginia Council of Presidents, led by Picataggi, determined what was needed by higher education institutions and worked together to offer a solution. W&M’s COVID Technology and Process Team, also led by Picataggi, took the lead on how the tool will be packaged and distributed at William & Mary. 

Jason Pully, William & Mary’s executive director of systems design & architecture, was the tool’s technical developer. 

Dr. Amira Roess, professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University, took the content lead, drafting questions relevant to managing COVID-19 within the university atmosphere. 

W&M worked with the other universities in building a mechanism that each school could integrate into their own existing frameworks. Picataggi and her team provided instructions on how to tie the tool into mobile apps, pull data out of the collection platforms and allow for flexibility in customizing the tool to fit individual institutional policy decisions. 

“William & Mary was deliberate in taking a modular approach in assembling the various technical components so institutions could use the pieces they need to fill gaps in their own workflows,” Picataggi said. “In addition to the tool, working together to understand how we’re all tackling the same problem allowed for various perspectives and ideas to be incorporated.”

For example, each school could choose the number of questions for its survey and craft the language of those questions. 

“There are a lot of institutions in Virginia, both public and private, that don’t have the resources to do this,” Picataggi said. “By taking a collaborative approach, the team essentially extended a hand; we delivered an open source solution that can be used by anyone.”

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