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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

New artificial intelligence tool answers COVID-19 questions in Mecklenburg

Mecklenburg Health Dept.
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Mecklenburg County Public Health has rolled out a new program to help answer questions about COVID-19. The new tool uses artificial intelligence to bypass human interaction.

If you have a question about COVID-19, from where to get a shot to how many people have been vaccinated, look no farther than the lower right-hand side of Mecklenburg County Public Health website.

There you’ll meet the Vaccine Information Resource Assistant — VIRA for short — an AI-based chatbot developed by the Johns Hopkins International Vaccine Access Center and IBM.

Mecklenburg County Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington says while the county’s COVID-19 hotline remains open for people to call and talk to a human, AI offers another tool to quickly dispense reliable information.

"We recognize that in today’s world that people want to receive information in many different ways," Washington said. "And sometimes they want to receive it quickly, and at different times of day."

Mecklenburg County Public Health was one of three public health organizations selected to receive customized versions of the program, along with Los Angeles and Boston.

The chatbot can answer questions in both English and Spanish. You can try it yourself here.

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Sarah Delia covers criminal justice and the arts for WFAE. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.