Students and alumni help create app to provide COVID-19 information


Daniel Bell-Nguyen, Reporter

A group of app developers, including several Lindenwood students and alumni, created a helpline app to spread accurate up-to-date information about COVID-19 via text message.

The COVID Helpline is a non-profit, open-source, community-driven initiative created to raise awareness and boost communication about the pandemic, according to its website.

Users can text +1 (914) 268-4399 to receive advice on how to stay healthy based on guidelines given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the latest data from Johns Hopkins University on the number of confirmed cases, deaths and recoveries in a designated area.

Vanessa Trujillo, a developer of the COVID Helpline app, said the goal of creating this service is to provide an easier way for people to obtain the latest information regarding COVID-19.

“The main reason we created [the app] is because there are a lot of people who don’t have access to the internet,” Trujillo said. “By making it through SMS, we’re able to provide information to people who are more vulnerable [due to lack of communication].”

Marouen Helali, a developer of the COVID Helpline, said one of the biggest priorities of the app is to fight misinformation.

“We tried focusing on getting the most correct sourcing for our data because the main focus of our project is to raise awareness for people who do not have the communication tools and also to combat misinformation,” Helali said.

Anna Tyan, a designer of the COVID Helpline, said the benefit of this app is that there is a simple and concise channel to receive news, unlike social media where she said there can be many inaccurate news articles.

Trujillo said it was important to make sure that the information the app provides is based on facts and data and not based on the opinions of the app developers.

“We didn’t want to put in our personal advice because everybody has their own bias on what you should or should not do to [stay safe],” Trujillo said. “I don’t think we have the authority to give public advice. So we do try to direct [users] towards the right direction [like the CDC and Johns Hopkins University].”

As states across the U.S. are beginning to loosen stay-at-home restrictions, Alexandru Andrei, a COVID Helpline app developer, said he wants people to make smart decisions on whether or not it’s safe to be out in the community based on facts.

“I think providing accurate data is the key to making informed decisions,” Andrei said. “[Our service] provides the ability for you to have the raw data and decide for yourself.”

Helali said since the COVID Helpline is an open-source system, people can voluntarily participate in the development of the app.

The COVID Helpline is a free service due to a grant received by Twilio, a programmable SMS service. The app developers said the COVID Helpline needs additional funding once the grant runs out to keep the service free, citing additional costs for marketing and website/platform hosting.

The COVID Helpline is accepting donations via its GoFundMe page. For more information about the COVID Helpline, email [email protected].