HOUSTON - As new cases of COVID-19 are rising again along with concerns about the Omicron variant, you may be worried about doing your holiday shopping or running errands in crowded stores.
A University of Houston professor just launched an app to help you stay safer when you're out in public.
The app goes beyond just guessing when the grocery store might have fewer customers inside. It shows you stores, banks, and pharmacies near the fewest COVID cases, the highest vaccination rates, and the time of day when there are the fewest customers.
Any time you’re in a crowded space, your chances of catching or spreading COVID-19 go up.
That's why Dr. Albert Cheng, professor of computer science and electrical & computer engineering at the University of Houston, wants to put the power to stay safe in your hands.
"This is the H-E-B to visit today if you want to reduce your chance of COVID-19 infection. And the best time to go is 9 a.m. to noon," Dr. Cheng showed us using the app.
Cheng's app goes further than contact tracing. He says the Real Time COVID-19 Infection Risk Assessment, or RT-CIRAM, uses up-to-the-minute public data on the number of reported COVID-19 cases, vaccination rates, and traffic data to show you the grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, hospitals, parks, and recreational sites with the lowest risk for exposure. It even includes survey data on the percentage of people in an area willing to wear masks.
"Let’s say you want to go to the bank, and you want to go to Chase, you have an account there, it shows the best branch to visit is between noon and 3 p.m. today. And the probable cases in the area is 54," demonstrated Cheng.
Cheng and his team launched the app in Harris County, Texas and Seattle, Washington, and plan to expand to Fort Bend County and more cities. He says users will soon be able to specify their zip code and distance they're willing to drive.
"The user is more empowered if trying to minimize his or her risk in going out to do your daily errands," said Cheng.
Even after the pandemic, he says the app can help shoppers avoid crowds and long lines.
"With this tool, I can reduce the number of hours I spend shopping for food or clothing, or doing banking transactions," he said.