21 Apr 2020

Tech pitches in to fight COVID-19 pandemic

Computer World
Tech pitches in to fight COVID-19 pandemic

As IT pros around the world go all-out to support a workforce that's suddenly fully remote, many technology workers and companies are also joining efforts to alleviate the COVID-19 crisis in various ways, including developing products to combat the virus, tracking and predicting its spread, and protecting hospitals from cyberattacks.

Cisco looks to connect healthcare operations and networking gear

Cisco on Monday said it has created two new programs to help healthcare organizations quickly get networking equipment for free: a "Pandemic Equipment Brokerage" and a "Healthcare Rapid Response Network Bundle."

The brokerage is designed to match companies looking to donate unused wireless equipment with healthcare facilities that may need it. "If you have equipment you’d like to donate to healthcare institutions, you can fill out a Donor form to tell us what you can contribute," the company said in a statement. "Healthcare organizations that need  equipment can fill out the Request form to indicate what they need. Cisco will connect the organizations. We also offer email and virtual technical support for the healthcare organizations that need it. Please contact covid-healthcare-wlan@external.cisco.com for more information or for help."

Cisco said it has also found equipment in its supply chain that it can distribute quickly "to support pop-up clinics and rapid response healthcare systems across the globe. We are making simple kits – a router with LTE uplink, a switch with Power-over-Ethernet capability, and up to 5 wireless access points – available for quick shipment at no cost to qualifying healthcare institutions."

Tableau tackles pandemic with data hub

Tableau Software has created a COVID-19 Data Hub to serve as a resource for vetting a variety of high-quality data sources related to the ongoing virus outbreak. The hub, which ties together data from the likes of Johns Hopkins University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO), offers pre-made dashboards and allows users to build their own visualizations.

"It evolved organically out of some of the things we were doing for ourselves," said Steve Schwartz, head of public affairs at Tableau, according to CIO.com. "We were following the continued spread of the disease, first in Wuhan in China and then as it started to become clearer that it was moving globally. Then eventually it popped up right in our own backyard in Seattle."

Schwartz said the data hub is being used in a variety of ways: "I just heard from a couple of the laboratory pharmaceutical companies that they were using a lot of this data to help inform where to distribute testing kits," Schwartz says. "They're using this core data to figure out where to distribute nationally and globally."

Facebook, CMU tout symptom survey data collection

Carnegie Mellon University, which is working with Facebook to collect and evaluate data about Facebook users' COVID-19-related symptoms, has released its initial findings. And in tandem with that release, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote about the effort – and what the company hopes to do – in the Washington Post. 

"Getting accurate county-by-county data from across the United States is challenging, and obtaining such focused data from across the whole world is even harder," he wrote. "But with a community of billions of people globally, Facebook can uniquely help researchers and health authorities get the information they need to respond to the outbreak and start planning for the recovery."

The school said it hopes to be able to use the data collected by Facebook – and a separate effort involving Google – to accurately forecast coronavirus activity several weeks ahead of time.

Ryan Tibshirani, co-leader of the school's Delphi COVID-19 Response Team, said the effort has netted millions of responses and that the data tracks well with other sources of information about the pandemic. "I'm very happy with both the Facebook and Google survey results," said Tibshirani, associate professor of statistics and machine learning. "They both have exceeded my expectations."

The survey responses, when combined with data such as medical claims and testing, should allow CMU to highlight disease activity better than simply relying on positive coronavirus tests alone. "Most of the data sources are available on a county level and the researchers say they have good coverage of the 601 U.S. counties with at least 100,000 people," the school said in a statement.

"Within a few weeks, [CMU researchers] expect to use these estimates to provide forecasts that will help hospitals, first responders and other health officials anticipate the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admits likely to occur in their locales several weeks in advance."

Said Zuckerberg: "We’re partnering with faculty from the University of Maryland to expand this survey globally, and the team at Carnegie Mellon is building an application programming interface, or API, that will let researchers everywhere access the results. We’re hopeful that this will help governments and public health officials around the world who might not otherwise have this kind of precise data to make decisions in the weeks and months ahead."

Instagram founders launch Rt.live virus tracker

Entrepreneuers Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, who founded Instagram in 2010 and later sold the company to Facebook, have launched Rt.live. The website uses continuously updated data from the COVID Tracking Project to determine how quickly the COVID-19 virus is spreading state by state in the U.S.

The site focuses on the virus' "Rt" value, where anything above 1.0 indicates it is spreading in a given state, and numbers below 1.0 indicate the spread is slowing down. 

"The metric being tracked here (Rt) represents the effective reproduction rate of the virus calculated for each locale," the site explains. "It lets us estimate how many secondary infections are likely to occur from a single infection in a specific area. Values over 1.0 mean we should expect more cases in that area, values under 1.0 mean we should expect fewer."

In an April 12 blog post, Systrom went into detail about tracking and how Rt values can change as a population modifies its behavior, by staying away from other people and keeping social distance, for instance.

"We’ve all witnessed that humans are adaptable," Systrom wrote. "Our behavior changes, whether mandated or self-prescribed, and that changes the effective R value at any point in time. As we socially distance and isolate, R plummets. Because the value changes so rapidly, Epidemiologists have argued that the only true way to combat COVID19 is to understand and manage by Rt.

"I agree, and I’d go further: we not only need to know Rt, we need to know local Rt," he wrote. "New York’s epidemic is vastly different than California’s and using a single number to describe them both is not useful. Knowing the local Rt allows us to manage the pandemic effectively."

TechCrunch initially reported about the site launch on April 18.

Bannersnack offers its Team collaboration option  free for 90 days

Collaboration platform company Bannersnack is offering its Team-level plan for free for 90 days to nonprofit groups fighting COVID-19.

"...You’re contributing with mission-critical services that are needed more than ever, and this is the least we can do," the company said in an April 10 corporate blog post.  "We’ll ensure you get setup help via our onboarding team and that you’re equipped to be up and running with whatever you need. This includes training on how to build a complete marketing campaign in minutes, how to personalize graphics and posters, import PSD files, and how to get your workspaces organized so that everyone is collaborating efficiently.

"To clarify: this is open to everyone in nonprofit or [a non-governmental organization] that is focused on fighting COVID-19, and there’s absolutely no obligation that you continue as our customer afterward. It’s our most advanced plan, free for a duration of 90 days from the time you sign up for the trial."

To sign up, potential users should send an email to teams@bannersnack.com with a  subject line that reads “NGO Fighting COVID-19.”

Twilio's Video platform now free for COVID-19 responders

Twilio said it is now offering three months of free use of Twilio Video Boost for customers in healthcare, education, and in the nonprofit sector fighting the pandemic; users have to sign up before June 30 to take advantage of the offer.

"...Twilio is excited to launch the Twilio Video Boost program, offering three months free usage of our Video product for new customers (or existing customers with a new video need)...," the company said in a statement. 

Anyone who meets the criteria and is interested in using Twilio should reach out to the company directly.

Gazelle donates iPads to healthcare workers

Online retailer Gazelle is donating all of the iPads from its warehouse in Louisville, Ky. to hospitals in the U.S. Gazelle, which is owned by ecoATM, has so far donated about 300 iPads since late March to frontline healthcare workers who are fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

A statement posted on the Gazelle site says: "iPads Currently Unavailable – During this difficult time, we are donating iPads from our inventory to hospitals across the country to help patients communicate with loved ones, aid with telemedicine and provide better communication between patients and health workers."

The iPads have gone to a number of faciltiies, the company said, including Sharp Healthcare in San Diego, Calif.; UofL Health in Louisville; Kaiser Permanente in Ontario, Calif., and to hospitals such as Weill Cornell in New York City. In particualr, Gazelle said the devices could be used in a number of ways, including for communications between patients and loved ones while quarantined; for telemedicine with remote patients; as a communication tool with COVID-19 patients to reduce the use of PPEs (masks, gowns, face shields); and to allow for telemedicine consultations with ICU doctors.

Nuance offers Dragon Medical for free for 90 days

Nuance Communications, which offers offers conversational AI, speech recognition and transcription services, is making some of its services available for free to healthcare workers.

"To enable uninterrupted services during COVID-19, Nuance is offering a range of free templates, licenses and services to healthcare customers," the comany said in a statement. Among the services, Nuance will provide:

  • Free Dragon Medical One 90-day add-on licenses to allow physicians and nurses to use their voice to capture patient info efficiently and securely.
  • Free Dragon Medical for Epic Haiku and Canto 90-day add-on licenses so  physicians can capture the patient data through Epic mobile apps.
  • Free PowerMic Mobile 90-day add-on licenses to help physicians and nurses dictate, edit, and navigate electronic health records (EHRs) using a smartphone as a secure wireless microphone.

More information about what Nuance is providing is available on the company's website.

Apple, Google team up on COVID-19 contact tracing

Two of the tech industry's biggest companies – Apple and Google – announced Friday afternoon that they are jointly working on technology to help trace and track the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The two companies plan to release APIs and OS-level technology that will allow government agencies and healthcare groups to alert users when they may have been exposed to the virus.

"Since COVID-19 can be transmitted through close proximity to affected individuals, public health officials have identified contact tracing as a valuable tool to help contain its spread," the two companies said. "A number of leading public health authorities, universities, and NGOs around the world have been doing important work to develop opt-in contact tracing technology. To further this cause, Apple and Google will be launching a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist...."

The technology will be rolled out in two phases: in May, the companies plan to release APIs to enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps that will be available in the companies' respective app stores. After that, the Bluetooth-based technology will be built into operating systems – what Apple and Google called a more "robust" solution. They also stressed that protecting privacy will be an important consideration.

Source: ComputerWorld

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