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Apple Updates Siri to Offer COVID-19 Advice

By Chand Bellur

March 24, 2020 at 2:13 p.m. PDT

  • Siri is Apple’s personal digital assistant, offering advice over spoken, natural-language communication.
  • A new Siri update provides advice for users with suspected COVID-19 infections.
  • Siri directs possibly infected users to various telemedicine apps for physician consultations.

Apple Updates Siri for the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or believe wild conspiracy theories, we’re under siege by a new virus. Without immunity, many people in the world could be sickened with this sometimes deadly virus. According to the World Health Organization, one in six infected with COVID-19 will need hospitalization. The mortality rate for those infected appears to be around 1%, however, testing is too sporadic to reach a veritable figure. If hospitals are overwhelmed, the mortality rate will be much higher.

The panic over COVID-19 has emptied supermarket shelves across the globe. Twenty-four hour news networks and the parts of the Internet have converted sensible talk of social distancing into an apocalypse. This is a serious pandemic, however, most people will survive. Countless TV shows about pandemics, such as The Walking Dead, have influenced millions to overreact to a manageable pandemic. Even the WHO has called this situation a “controllable pandemic”.

Apple, seeking to demystify COVID-19, recently updated Siri to handle salient coronavirus inquiries. Users asking whether they have COVID-19 or similar questions are presented with a set of questions designed to diagnose the disease.

Those with severe or life-threatening symptoms are directed to call 911. Users with lesser symptoms are steered toward telemedicine apps. This strategy should prevent those with mild symptoms and hypochondriacs from overwhelming health care systems.

Siri’s Diagnosis Based on Old Information

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, researchers are still learning new facts about the virus. For a long time, the symptoms have been described as a dry cough, fever, shortness of breath and fatigue. This is how the disease presents in some people, however, others experience entirely different symptoms.

According to The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 48.5% of those infected with novel coronavirus experience gastrointestinal symptoms. The most common GI symptom is a lack of appetite. About half of those with gastrointestinal symptoms experience diarrhea. Few individuals experience vomiting.

It’s important to note that seven out of the 204 patients in the study had no respiratory symptoms at all. Furthermore, most with GI symptoms experience worsening symptoms as the infection grows. Patients presenting with gastrointestinal symptoms tend to fare worse than other patients, requiring increased hospitalization.

Apple’s intention to provide COVID-19 advice may be altruistic. Perhaps, like many corporations, they’re just doing what’s expected. Unfortunately, Siri may be missing some who present solely with GI symptoms.

Twenty-Four Hour News Grinds on Old Information

Most people are unaware that novel coronavirus patients experience GI symptoms. Twenty-four hour news networks and “utopian” technology corporations have eclipsed medical journals. News personalities, with communications and journalism backgrounds, don’t actually read medical journals or do independent research. They talk to a limited set of experts, often “TV doctors” who no longer practice medicine. These experts simply regurgitate the same outdated information.

The moral of the story is to look beyond corporate America for news. Research on the virus changes every day, however, news networks profit from making the most out of limited content. If you’re interested in learning facts about COVID-19, go for primary sources, such as the WHO and medical journals.


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