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Innovation showcase

This Mexico state fights COVID-19 using an app first built to track and analyze crime

The state of Querétaro has been able to quickly identify and treat tens of thousands of COVID-19 patients, while preventing overcrowding at hospitals, using a Java application that runs on Oracle Exadata Cloud@Customer.


By Sasha Banks-Louie | October 2020


When COVID-19 came to Mexico in early March, Querétaro Governor Francisco Dominguez gave his administration one week to devise a plan that would help local health officials fight the pandemic and prevent contagion.

“At the time, we didn’t have any COVID-19 cases, but we saw what was going on in other countries and knew we needed to immediately identify and treat infected residents,” says Juan Martin Granados Torres, government secretary for the state of Querétaro. “We also needed to keep our hospitals and healthcare workers from getting overwhelmed.”

Torres and his team of public security specialists and technology architects had to get creative—there was no time to build a COVID-19 tracking system from scratch. The team looked at an existing public safety platform the state launched two years ago, which tens of thousands of Querétaro residents and criminal justice officials have used to report and analyze criminal activity in their communities.

“Because the technology architecture was so well structured, we knew it could quickly be repurposed to help residents report their COVID-19 symptoms, too,” says Pedro Toscuento (pictured above), director at the Center of Information and Analysis for Security of Querétaro (CIAS), who reports to Torres.

The platform, called COSMOS, was designed by Granados and built by Toscuento’s team using the Java SE Development Kit and an Oracle Database running on Exadata. It now runs on Exadata Cloud@Customer, which lets the state get the flexibility and cost savings of a cloud-based system, with Oracle remotely maintaining the system, while protecting citizens’ private information by keeping the data and physical infrastructure in the state’s data center.

“We chose Oracle over Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud because it offered us a higher level of data protection and security for our very sensitive data,” Toscuento says. “With Oracle Exadata Cloud@Customer, we’ve not only been able to keep all of the data behind our own firewalls, but we also can now extend custom web and mobile services to citizens and public officials.”

 

“We chose Oracle over Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud because it offered us a higher level of data protection and security for our very sensitive data.”

Pedro Toscuento, Director at the Center of Information and Analysis for Security of Querétaro (CIAS)

Using the repurposed COSMOS application, Toscuento’s team worked with healthcare administrators and doctors to develop a 25-question survey, called COVAPP, available from the agency’s website or mobile application developed in less than three weeks. Residents can download the survey, enter their symptoms, and then submit for review, analysis, and diagnosis.

“When residents upload their surveys, the system itself screens the answers and determines which symptoms get flagged for further analysis,” says José Ponce, medical director for the government secretary of the state of Querétaro, who worked with Toscuento’s team and the state Secretariat of Healthcare to develop the questionnaire. If symptoms are consistent with those published by the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, then the completed questionnaires are routed to a call center, where an agent reaches out to gather more details about the severity of symptoms, and then sends that feedback to a doctor for diagnosis.

“We screen initially for symptoms such as, fever, headaches, and coughs, but the key marker for COVID-19 is shortness of breath,” Ponce says. “That’s when residents are immediately routed from the call center to a medical professional, and depending on the severity of symptoms, are either directed to self-isolate or scheduled for treatment at the nearest hospital.”

So far, the system has provided 61,000 diagnoses statewide. Residents have downloaded 18,488 mobile versions of the survey via Android devices and about 8,600 from the Apple store. So far Querétaro has been faring better than much of Mexico against COVID-19, with just 89 cases out of every 100,000 people and 75% available capacity in its hospitals, Ponce says.

“The COVAPP application doesn’t just screen for COVID-19 symptoms, it also provides guidelines to help people minimize their exposure to infection and prevent the virus from spreading,” Ponce says. The technology program has helped the state’s overall efforts to combat the virus in Querétaro, including to "keep our hospitals open for the citizens who need immediate, critical care.”

Photography: Courtesy of the Center of Information and Analysis for Security of Querétaro (CIAS)
Illustrations: Oracle

Sasha Banks-Louie

Sasha Banks-Louie

An organic hay farmer and writer, Sasha Banks-Louie is a brand journalist at Oracle, covering cloud infrastructure, as well as startups and research institutions.