The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the need for exploring different diagnostic and therapeutic modalities to tackle future viral threats. In this vein, we propose the idea of sentinel cells, cellular biosensors capable of detecting viral antigens and responding to them with customizable responses. Using SARS-CoV-2 as a test case, we developed a live cell sensor (SARSNotch) using a de novo-designed protein binder against the SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein. SARSNotch is capable of driving custom genetically-encoded payloads in immortalized cell lines or in primary T lymphocytes in response to purified SARS-CoV-2 Spike or in the presence of Spike-expressing cells. Furthermore, SARSNotch is functional in a cellular system used in directed evolution platforms for development of better binders or therapeutics. In keeping with the rapid dissemination of scientific knowledge that has characterized the incredible scientific response to the ongoing pandemic, we extend an open invitation for others to make use of and improve SARSNotch sentinel cells in the hopes of unlocking the potential of the next generation of smart antiviral therapeutics.