contracting COVID-19

Houston health tech startup providing local governments a coronavirus screening tool

Luminare Inc. pivoted to quickly create an online COVID-19 screening tool, and local governments have tapped into the resource. Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

Founded in 2014, Houston-based health care software startup Luminare Inc. seeks to prevent sepsis, a life-threatening reaction to a host of infections that causes about one-third of U.S. hospital deaths. Recently, though, Luminare pivoted to address another health concern — the threat of the novel coronavirus.

After the novel coronavirus surfaced, Luminare retooled its sepsis-detection platform to create a free online self-assessment test for people who suspect they've contracted the virus. The test, available at CheckForCorona.com, helps someone figure out whether they should seek a coronavirus test.

An online screening typically takes less than two minutes. The confidential, secure assessment complies with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Based on your assessment results, you might be directed to contact your local health department or, in the worst-case scenario, call 911.

If you take the self-assessment, you'll be quizzed about:

  • Your age.
  • Whether you've had close in-person contact with somebody who's been diagnosed with COVID-19 disease.
  • Whether you've traveled internationally within the past 14 days.
  • Whether you're feeling sick and what symptoms you're experiencing.
  • Whether you live in a nursing home or similar facility.
  • Whether you're a first responder or health care worker.

During an assessment, you can opt to provide your location or not.

Dr. Sarma Velamuri, an internal medicine physician who is co-founder and CEO of Luminare, says he hopes QuickScreen can eventually enable prediction of coronavirus outbreaks based on symptoms such as a fever. QuickScreen enables communities and organizations to collect anonymous data that can help shed light on the transmission and severity of the coronavirus in certain locations.

As of early April, the free assessment, translated into eight languages, had screened close to 100,000 patients around the world.

Luminare teamed up with the Microsoft for Startups program and Harris County Public Health, as well as Durham, North Carolina-based software developer Cognitect Inc., to develop QuickScreen. Velamuri says QuickScreen is available at no cost to communities, government agencies, and health care organizations to help combat the novel coronavirus. QuickScreen aims to decrease ER overcrowding and reduce health care workers' potential exposure to the virus.

QuickScreen "is available to pretty much anyone who wants it," Velamuri says.

Aside from Harris County Public Health, the QuickScreen platform has been adopted by the city of Houston and Fort Bend County. Luminare created a web-based tool for Houston's Healthcare for the Homeless to determine whether homeless people need testing, require quarantining, or need other health care.

A general public version of QuickScreen is available for anyone it use; geographically tailored versions also are offered. The version adopted by Harris County Public Health encompasses 30 counties in and around the Houston metro area, and can point someone to local health care resources.

Velamuri says it took about 20 days to build the coronavirus tool, while Luminare has spent five years developing the sepsis platform. To help cover the cost of QuickScreen, Luminare is seeking donations, given that it's a small company with just 12 employees.

Luminare has temporarily shifted much of its focus toward QuickScreen and away from sepsis-detection platform, which five hospitals currently use. However, that hardly means the startup has given up tackling a deadly problem that represents an estimated 13 percent of all U.S. hospital costs.

Luminare, which is based at the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute and is a graduate of the TMCx accelerator, has raised money through angel investments and friends-and-family funding, Velamuri says. Among its investors is Houston-based VC firm Carnrite Ventures. According to Crunchbase, Luminare's seed round totaled $497,500.

"Our core mission is to stop sepsis that's in hospitals," Velamuri says. "That's why we started the company. That's what we're about."

"The future to us looks very much like continuing to stop people from dying of sepsis," he adds, "and building whatever this pandemic takes to fix from a software perspective. We're just going to keep pushing on that."

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Building Houston

 
 

5G could be taking over Texas — and Houston is leading the way. Photo via Getty Images

Based on one key measure, Houston sits at the forefront of a telecom revolution that could spark a regional economic impact of more than $30 billion.

Data published recently by the Texas Comptroller's Office points out that as of last November and December, Houston led all cities in Texas for the number of so-called "small cells." Small cells are a key component in the rollout of ultra-high-speed 5G wireless communication throughout the Houston area and the country.

As the Texas Comptroller's Office explains, small cells are low-powered antennas that communicate wirelessly via radio waves. They're usually installed on existing public infrastructure like street signs or utility poles, instead of the big communication towers that transmit 4G signals.

The comptroller's tally shows Houston had approved 5,455 small-cell sites as of the November-December timeframe. That dwarfs the total number of sites (1,948) for the state's second-ranked city, Dallas.

"Houston is in the vanguard of small cell permitting in Texas, and not just because it's the state's largest city; advocates have lauded its proactive approach to 5G. Other cities, particularly smaller ones, are lagging well behind," the Comptroller's Office notes.

According to CTIA, a trade group for the wireless communications industry, 5G holds the promise to deliver an economic impact of $30.3 billion in the Houston area and create 93,700 jobs. The group says industries such as health care, energy, transportation, e-commerce, and logistics stand to benefit from the emergence of 5G.

"Maintaining world-class communications infrastructure is a requirement for success in a rapidly changing global economy. Small cells and fiber technology are the key foundational components for network densification and robust 5G. Cities like Houston that have embraced the need for this infrastructure will see the benefits of 5G faster than others," Mandy Derr, government affairs director at Houston-based communications infrastructure REIT Crown Castle International Corp. and a member of the Texas 5G Alliance, tells InnovationMap.

Derr says leaders in Houston have embraced the importance of small-cell technology through "reasonable and effective" regulations and processes aimed at boosting 5G capabilities. Three major providers of wireless service — AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon — offer 5G to customers in the Houston area.

"More small cells and fiber provide greater and faster access for the masses, enabling the connectivity that is essential to our businesses today — whether it's accepting payments on a mobile card reader, completing a sale on the go, or reliably reaching consumers where they are," Derr says.

In a blog post, Netrality Data Centers, which operates a data center in Houston, proclaims that Houston is shaping up to be a hub of 5G innovation.

"Houston has always been on the frontline," Mayor Sylvester Turner said during a 5G roundtable discussion in 2019. "It is who we are. It is in our DNA. We are a leading city. We didn't wait for somebody else to go to the moon. Or to be the energy capital of the world. Or the largest medical center in the world. But you don't stay at the front if you don't continue to lead."

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