A new, free app allows San Antonio residents to find nearby COVID-19 testing sites with the shortest wait times, as well as relevant city resources for the pandemic.

The web-based app launched Wednesday and is a collaboration between the City and Irys, a San Antonio-based tech company that previously built the city’s 311 app.

 “The fight against COVID-19 has forced us to be creative,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a remote press conference Wednesday afternoon. “The app will make it much easier to cope with the stressful process of getting tested.”

The app, COVID Watch SA, offers a live interactive map showcasing each testing site’s location, address, estimated wait time, and number of people at that location. The app is free and web-based, meaning no download is required and it can be accessed by any device with an internet browser.

Because the information about wait times is crowdsourced from other users, it will take time for the map to populate. The developers have talked with the City about the possibility of installing on-site monitors to provide updates.

Plans also are in the works for a Spanish-language version within the month.

The web app allows users to search nearby COVID-19 testing locations and relies on user-data to estimate wait times. Credit: Screenshot / Irys

Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4), who spearheaded the partnership along with Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7), said the app could eventually play a role in the city’s vaccination efforts.

Rocha Garcia said the app is meant to target the 18-44 age demographic, which she said has the highest number of cases in San Antonio at present.  

“We needed to be sure we gave them that system of information in one place,” she said.

In a section for other resources, the app links to dashboards and services directly from the City’s COVID-19 website. The information is organized by frequently asked questions: Should I get tested?, What should I do while waiting for test results?“, “I was exposed and tested positive, now what?

The app is not managed by the City.

Irys created the app as a “pro bono” service to the city, Irys CEO Beto Altamirano said, and they plan to continue updating it.

“We want people to have a better idea of what’s going on in the city,” he said.

Sandoval thanked the team for their “generous work and fast delivery.”

“I don’t know how many all-nighters you had to pull, but you made it happen,” she said.

The City’s partnership with Irys comes on the heels of the startup’s previous work creating the City’s 311 app.

Garcia, who teaches a marketing class at Our Lady of the Lake University, said she reached out to Altamirano after one of her students wrote about her internship at Irys in a weekly reflection essay. The student described the startup’s work on an app called Move The Line, which gave estimated wait times for polling locations during the November election.

Garcia asked if something similar could be done for COVID-19 testing locations.

That election app – built in collaboration with MOVE Texas – became the template for the app launched Wednesday.

Irys, which rebranded from Cityflag earlier this year, previously released an app for local COVID-19 resources just weeks after the onset of the pandemic. The dashboard came to be used by several municipalities in Texas and Mexico, as well as the state of New Jersey.

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Waylon Cunningham

Waylon Cunningham writes about business and technology. Contact him at waylon@sareport.org.