Chicago's new COVID app 'coaches' residents, starts vaccine wait list

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To distribute up-to-date public health advice and let residents pre-register to receive COVID-19 vaccines, Chicago’s Department of Public Health unveiled a new web application this week.

The Chi COVID Coach is the city’s latest effort to gather information on how the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 62,000 people in the U.S., is affecting different demographic groups and neighborhoods throughout the city. Chicago residents who enter their health information are able to receive text messages based on how severe their COVID-19 symptoms appear to be, including information on how to limit exposure to others and how long they should remain in isolation if they believe they’re infected. The web app also notifies users when COVID-19 testing or antibody testing is available, and allows users to get in line to receive a vaccine when one becomes available.

“Whether it is data or technology, we are using all of the tools we have available to inform our decisions and further expand our citywide response to this pandemic,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a press release. “This new app will also allow us to communicate directly with residents in real time, to answer questions about their symptoms and determine if they need medical attention.”

The web app is hosted on Google’s cloud platform, enabling the city to quickly handle influxes of traffic as the pandemic situation changes, according to city officials. Chicago chief data officer Nick Lucius told StateScoop that the city hired a company called MTX Group to design the app’s back-end so that the city could focus on offering advice to residents.

“The City of Chicago provides the role of public health expertise,” Lucius said. “When you look at it, what it really is is a form where you can input your information, and then the coach site, where you get information tailored to your situation. So much of that requires public health expertise, including what you need to know about people and what you need to tell people. That all came from the Department of Public Health experts.”

The web app is similar to surveys in use in Austin, Texas, and Jackson, Mississippi, that collect data to help government agencies assess the spread of the coronavirus on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. Lucius said the city was already performing such assessments before the launch of the app using state and county data on Chicago’s open data portal.

He said the city initially developed a website to inform residents of where and how fast the virus was spreading, and the mapping capabilities offered by the city’s open data portal have helped narrow down which demographic groups are most vulnerable to the virus.

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apps, Chicago, coronavirus, COVID-19, Open Data
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