The next time you need to find a COVID-19 testing center or vaccine site in New Jersey, the best tool for the job may come from the mind of one of Stevens’ own. Maor Mashiach, a sophomore in the Department of Computer Science at Stevens Institute of Technology, spent his winter break building the NJ Vaccine Locator, a website that offers New Jersey residents a smooth interface to quickly and easily find the nearest COVID-19 testing or vaccination site.
A serious problem
Mashiach is no stranger to leveraging the power of Stevens students to solve pandemic problems. In March, Mashiach reached out to the Stevens Venture Center and helped organize a two-part virtual event—COVID HealthHack I and COVID HealthHack II—that invited participants to engineer real-world solutions for the challenges of the pandemic.
Then, in October, Mashiach had his own real-world pandemic problem: he needed to find a COVID testing site himself. “It was a difficult process for me,” he explained. “[The resources were] scattered across the internet. I couldn't find everything on one page or somewhere that's very accessible—and that was an issue.”
For some people, that’s simply inconvenient or frustrating, but for others, it’s a serious barrier to accessing critical information. For Mashiach, it was an opportunity to put his knowledge to use to make a tangible difference for his fellow New Jerseyans.
Mashiach got to work building an accessible, user-friendly web tool to help users locate testing centers. Then, his project grew even bigger. “I saw that Governor Murphy came out with a goal to vaccinate 70% of the population in six months. I was thinking, ‘What can I do to help New Jersey complete that goal even faster?’ So, that was another moment that I was like, ‘Listen, I gotta do something about this.’”
A serious solution
The New Jersey government website provides a table organized by county that users can scroll to find a testing or vaccination site. Many of the entries lack contact information or links to the locations’ websites—and there’s no mapping feature at all. Mashiach says the table could be especially overwhelming for users who aren’t tech-savvy or have other barriers to accessing the data. Some users might just walk away and decide getting a COVID test or vaccine is too difficult.
That was a huge motivator as Mashiach worked through his winter break to build a tool to manage and share both testing and vaccine site information. He used React.js to build the front end and Node.js and Python to build the back end. “I worked on it over 300 hours since November in my spare time—you know, nights until two in the morning,” he said. “I was really grinding on this one!”
The website’s landing page invites the user to simply input a zip code, then populates a map of all the testing and vaccination sites within 40 miles with a sidebar listing each site from nearest to most distant. The sidebar also displays the site address and phone number plus important information, such as if the site only provides services to adults. Each entry has three buttons so the user can simply click to access Google Maps driving directions to the site, visit the site’s own website, or call the site directly. The NJ Vaccine Locator updates automatically so the user can trust the data is accurate in real time.
Mashiach continues to improve the website and hopes to develop partnerships so the tool can help as many people as possible. He’s already received feedback from users who are passing the website to family members who are eligible for vaccination, making it easier to get those precious shots in New Jersey arms. He’s met with representatives from New Jersey’s Office of Innovation and hopes the website will make a difference in the vaccine rollout.
The sophomore is also actively seeking an internship and envisions a future career in software development, an industry in which he’s already worked while attending Stevens. When it comes to the vaccine locator website, he credits what he’s learned at Stevens for his success.
“Stevens has taught me to not only think in terms of curriculum, but also think outside the box,” Mashiach said. “I have to give it to them because I’ve learned to not only accept things as-is but also to find ways to innovate.”
Learn more about computer science at Stevens: