Underserved communities have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. They are stricken by the dual-edged sword of higher case numbers and fewer resources, often due to poverty, America’s wealth inequality, and the deep roots of institutional racism. These are difficult problems to solve, but one problem we can address is access to the resources that do exist.
Our idea was inspired by the inequality of resource access in these times of crisis. Many vulnerable populations, from the elderly, to the homeless, to the technologically illiterate, to the low-income, have trouble getting access to the resources they need.
Often these resources are available, but if you’re an elderly person or one of the 15% of cell phone users who don’t have a smartphone, the new-fangled apps might be confusing to use. Online resources are great, but if you’re one of the 16 million people without internet access or even one of the 162.8 million people without high-speed internet, those resources may be hard to get to.
Our solution is beautiful in its simplicity. textCOVID, is simple to use and does exactly what it says it does, without any bells or whistles.
When users text textCOVID, they are directed to a menu that allows them to reply with a number, choosing between the following: up-to-date COVID-19 information (including number of COVID19 cases and spikes), locations of food pantries, testing locations, housing options, and unemployment resources. By optionally entering a zip code, resources will be specific to their location.
We use Twilio’s texting API and ngrok in order to set up an automated SMS server that receives texts and sends generated replies. Our demo version, as a minimum viable product, reads from a hard-coded csv file that contains various information for different zip codes. The general availability version of this product may see web-scraping of sites and resources online coupled with some natural language processing to automatically populate the csv database.