CDC chatbot helps you screen yourself for coronavirus: How to use it

(Image credit:

If you're worried you might have the coronavirus — and who isn't? — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has posted an online chatbot that helps you check whether you might be sick with COVID-19.

To clarify: Only a physician or other qualified medically trained person can make an actual diagnosis. But the CDC's "self-checker," called Clara, walks you through a series of screening questions to tell you whether you should rest easy, call a doctor or call for an ambulance right away. Unfortunately, this is only for U.S. residents.

Clara can be launched from the big blue button on the CDC's page about coronavirus symptoms and testing.

The program pops up in a separate window to the side and asks your location, age, gender, symptoms and whether you've come into contact with someone who's already sick, and whether you're in a nursing home.

I ran through the questions several times, staying as true as possible to my actual situation: a middle-aged male living in New York City who probably is fine, yet is convinced he will die anyway.

If I said "No" to "Are you ill, or caring for someone who is ill?", then Clara told me that it "Sounds like you are feeling ok". 

If I said "Yes," I was indeed ill, then Clara asked about my location, age and gender. If I said I had no symptoms other than a cough, and that I wasn't in a nursing home and had no pre-existing conditions, then Clara told me to "Stay home and take care of yourself. Call your provider if you get worse".

Screen grab from the CDC's coronavirus self-check chatbot.

(Image credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

But if I said I had "severe and constant pain or pressure in the chest," or were "gasping for air", then Clara told me to "Call 911 -- You may be having a medical emergency." (Several other symptoms prompted that response, including seizures, confusion and slurred speech, not all of which are associated with COVID-19.)

Screen grab of the CDC's coronavirus self-check chatbot.

(Image credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Clara was created by the CDC and Microsoft, using the latter's Microsoft Azure Healthcare Bot software. You can read about other implementations of Healthcare Bot in this Microsoft blog posting.

Once again, as Clara itself says, "This system does not replace the judgment of healthcare professionals or the performance of any clinical assessment." 

But the chatbot should help relieve the fears of many people who fear they're infected — and let those truly in danger know what to do.

Paul Wagenseil

Paul Wagenseil is a senior editor at Tom's Guide focused on security and privacy. He has also been a dishwasher, fry cook, long-haul driver, code monkey and video editor. He's been rooting around in the information-security space for more than 15 years at, SecurityNewsDaily, TechNewsDaily and Tom's Guide, has presented talks at the ShmooCon, DerbyCon and BSides Las Vegas hacker conferences, shown up in random TV news spots and even moderated a panel discussion at the CEDIA home-technology conference. You can follow his rants on Twitter at @snd_wagenseil.