Ideally, smartphone users would have immediate access to important pandemic updates via “One-Stop Corona,” an app invented by Ardsley High School senior Linus Zwaka.
One-Stop Corona earned Zwaka first place in the 2020 Congressional App Challenge for Election District 16, where the Zwaka family resides. More than 6,500 students from 308 districtscompeted in the challenge.
The app isn’t for sale, but it is ahead of the curve. According to Zwaka, last month New York State released an app with at least one similar feature. Zwaka’s app has a half-dozen features. If One-Stop Corona were on the market, Android users who downloaded it would see local news and federal Centers for Disease Control guidelines; maps showing the number of Covid-19 cases in the city boroughs and Westchester; testing center locations; and high-density areas, such as where crowds are gathered, all reported in real time.
The app includes a symptom checklist, tips to stay safe, and a sound and visual alert system that indicates when the user is too close to a high-density area. Zwaka pointed out that the app doesn’t beep when the user is 6 feet away from a friend or in a grocery store — “That would be really annoying,” he said.
Zwaka developed his app working 2 hours a day for two weeks last fall, using his own server in the basement at home. He used the MIT App Inventor, which helps develop applications for Android phones using a web browser and either a connected phone or emulator.
“I could download this on an Android phone and it would work just fine without changing the [coding] language, but it would require more work,” Zwaka added.
If One-Stop Corona hit the market, Apple users would be out of luck. “It’s much more complicated to get an app into the Apple store,” he continued. “They have their own specific language they want people to use, and you would have to have a full team to upload the app; they have a special testing process to make sure it’s secure, so the app doesn’t introduce anything harmful.”
In his video on the Congressional App website, Zwaka takes viewers through the app’s features, also sharing why he developed One-Stop Corona. “I noticed it’s incredibly difficult to find information in one spot. You always have to go around and look for different sources. I developed an app specifically for high school students to get their information in one spot.”
Zwaka could be considered a chip off the old blocks — Researchers Thomas Zwaka, M.D., Ph.D., and Marion Zwaka, Ph.D., share their own lab at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in Manhattan, where they are working on how the coronavirus started and where. According to their son, there’s a possibility one carrier is a bat, and that the virus originated with bats.
“They’re studying what in the bats’ DNA allows them to have the virus within them and not get sick, but allows other species to get super sick,” he said. “They’re also working with stem cells, growing lung cells to try to see how it’s infecting the cells and how the virus operates; using human lung cells to get a better understanding.”
One-Stop Corona was, in part, inspired by their efforts.
Zwaka has a message for individuals of a certain age who think they’re invulnerable to Covid-19. “Of course younger people can get it,” he said. “So whether or not you have symptoms that are mild or more extreme, it’s important for the safety of others to make sure that everybody stays safe, still follows the guidelines, takes them seriously.”
“I know a lot of people in my school see the regulations as too harsh or too demanding,” he continued, “but it’s still important that people follow them, no matter what.”
The Congressional App Challenge was launched in October 2015 when the U.S. House of Representatives passed regulations allowing each representative to host an officially sanctioned computer science competition in their district. During the first four years of the challenge, more than 14,000 students across 48 states competed. In 2019, the competition attracted 10,211 students; the 2020 total was not available.