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Houston startup creates COVID-19 tracking tool

A Houston startup has created a web tool for tracking the coronavirus. Pexels

A Houston tech startup has created a web application to give the residents of Harris County all the local information on COVID-19 in the palm of their hand.

Predictive Solutions uses a map tool to indicate the county's nearby testing locations as well as cases that have been self reported in the area through the tool. While not trying to be comprehensive, the website is trying to track trends with the disease.

"We developed the app to help streamline communication between the City of Houston, the healthcare community, aid organizations and Harris County residents, while mitigating the logistical nightmare of making sure presumed cases get tested," says Stewart Severino, co-founder and CEO of Predictive Solutions, in the news release.

While the web app is something consumers can use and report on, it's also something that federal, state and local officials can use as a data solution to predicting the virus' trends.

"By providing a mechanism for the city to monitor testing locations and enabling users to self-report symptoms, Predictive hopes to deliver a platform that can help officials gain a firm handle on the trending virus, allowing for decision-making that's directly informed by data," says Predictive's co-founder and CTO, Theo Patestos, in the release.

The startup is a portfolio company of H Town Incubator, a new coworking space in town that provides its members with services like health care and legal counsel. The app can be accessed online through desktop or mobile.

"This is only a starting point for presenting the data," says Severino, who's also the CEO of H Town Incubator. "We need city and state officials, as well as the public to help make this application useful. The app is only as good as the data it gathers."

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UH has found a way to instantly zap COVID-10. Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

While the world rushes to find a COVID-19 vaccine, scientists from the University of Houston have found a way to trap and kill the virus — instantly.

The team has designed a "catch and kill" air filter that can nullify the virus responsible for COVID-19. Researchers reported that tests at the Galveston National Laboratory found 99.8 percent of the novel SARS-CoV-2 — which causes COVID-19 — was killed in a single pass through the filter.

Zhifeng Ren, director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, collaborated with Monzer Hourani, CEO of Medistar, a Houston-based medical real estate development firm, plus other researchers to design the filter, which is described in a paper published in Materials Today Physics.

Researchers were aware the virus can remain in the air for about three hours, which required a filter that could quickly remove it. The added pressure of businesses reopening created an urgency in controlling the spread of the virus in air conditioned spaces, according to UH.

Meanwhile, to scorch the virus — which can't survive above around 158 degrees Fahrenheit — researchers instilled a heated filter. By blasting the temperature to around 392 F, they were able to kill the virus almost instantly.

The filter also killed 99.9 percent of the anthrax spores, according to researchers.

A prototype was built by a local workshop and first tested at Ren's lab for the relationship between voltage/current and temperature; it then went to the Galveston lab to be tested for its ability to kill the virus. Ren says it satisfies the requirements for conventional heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

"This filter could be useful in airports and in airplanes, in office buildings, schools and cruise ships to stop the spread of COVID-19," said Ren, MD Anderson Chair Professor of Physics at UH and co-corresponding author for the paper, in a statement. "Its ability to help control the spread of the virus could be very useful for society."

Medistar executives are also proposing a desk-top model, capable of purifying the air in an office worker's immediate surroundings, Ren added.

Developers have called for a phased roll-out of the device, with a priority on "high-priority venues, where essential workers are at elevated risk of exposure — particularly schools, hospitals and health care facilities, as well as public transit environs such as airplanes."

The hope, developers add, is that the filter will protect frontline workers in essential industries and allow nonessential workers to return to public work spaces.

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