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Background The app-based COVID Symptom Study was launched in Sweden to disseminate real-time estimates of disease spread and to collect prospective data for research. The aim of this study was to describe the project, develop models for estimation of COVID-19 prevalence and to evaluate it for prediction of hospital admissions for COVID-19. Methods We enrolled 143 531 study participants ([≥]18 years) throughout Sweden, who contributed 10.6 million daily symptom reports between April 29, 2020 and February 10, 2021. Data from 19 161 self-reported PCR tests were used to create a symptom-based algorithm to estimate daily prevalence of symptomatic COVID-19. The prediction model was validated using external datasets and used to forecast subsequent new hospital admissions. Results A prediction model for symptomatic COVID-19 based on 17 symptoms, age, and sex yielded an area under the ROC curve of 0.78 (95% CI 0.74-0.83) in an external validation dataset. App-based surveillance proved particularly useful for predicting hospital trends in times of insufficient testing capacity and registration delays. During the first wave, our prediction model estimates demonstrated a lower mean error (0.38 average new daily hospitalizations per 100 000 inhabitants per week (95% CI 0.32, 0.45)) for subsequent hospitalizations in the ten most populated counties, than a model based on confirmed case data (0.72 (0.64, 0.81)). Conclusions The experience of the COVID Symptom Study highlights the important role citizens can play in real-time monitoring of infectious diseases, and how app-based data collection may be used for data-driven rapid responses to public health challenges.

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