Tech pitches in to fight COVID-19 pandemic

A growing number of tech companies and IT pros are working in a variety of ways to help fight the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Here's a rundown of what some of them are doing.

0
2100

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.

Apple launches app COVID-19 app, website

Apple recently unveiled a screening tool and set of resources designed to help people stay updated on the ongoing pandemic and take steps to protect their health. The information provided is based on the latest Centers for Disease Control guidance.

The new COVID-19 website and the COVID-19 app (now available in the company’s App Store), were created jointly with the CDC, the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the Federal Emergency management Agency.

The app and website allow users to answer a series of questions involving risk factors, recent exposure and symptoms of the coronavirus. In turn, users will get CDC recommendations on next steps, including guidance on social distancing and self-isolating, how to monitor symptoms, whether or not a test is recommended, and when to contact a medical provider. This screening tools are not designed to replace instructions from healthcare providers or guidance from state and local health authorities, the company said.

Start-up Apollo tweaks platform to match healthcare pros with hospitals

A health-tech startup that matches healthcare professionals with healthcare organizations and facilities seeking immediate shift coverage has relaunched its platform in light of an expected nationwide shortage of nurses, physicians, healthcare workers, and volunteers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The online tool from Apollo is intended to reduce the strain on the U.S. healthcare system; Apollo has waived any fees for using its platform for the next four weeks.

Using the platform, hospitals can post jobs and job-seeking professionals can create profiles. An algorithm then matches those institutions needing immediate assistance with potential employees to address staffing challenges. Apollo has more than 90 physicians enrolled from several major health systems.

“As medical professionals, we understand the desperate need of the healthcare community right now,” said Apollo Founder and CEO Jon Lensing. “We believe that this shift in our original plans better serves our hurting nation. Our mission has always been to help save lives, and it will forever remain that.”

“COVID-19 has rapidly changed life in the United States in ways that few thought possible just weeks ago,” the company said in a statement. “While we adapt to these changes, there may be even more changes to come including increased strain and demand on our healthcare facilities and healthcare providers. At Apollo, we want to help mitigate the stress endured by both healthcare facilities and healthcare providers.”

IBM, Google, Microsoft, HPE and others create an HPC consortium

A number of major tech players, government agencies and universities has joined forces to create a COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium that hopes to speed up the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The group includes IBM, AWS, Google, HPE, Microsoft, NASA, the U.S. National Labs, NASA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the U.S. Department of Energy, among others.

The idea is to meld the high-performance computing (HPC) systems supported by consortium members to help researchers run massive amounts of epidemiology, bioinformatics, and molecular modeling calculations. The experiments would take years to complete if done by hand, or months if handled on slower, traditional computing platforms, according to IBM.

New York’s technology SWAT teams

New York officials are pulling together “Technology SWAT teams as the state struggles to deal with COVID-19 outbreak.

“New York State is launching technology driven products with leading global tech companies to accelerate and amplify our response to COVID-19,” the state said on its official website. “We are looking for impactful solutions and skilled tech employees to help. Individuals from leading global technology companies are being deployed across high-impact and urgent coronavirus response activities.”

In particular, New York is seeking “experience in product management, software development/engineering, hardware deployment and end-user support, data science, operations management, design, or other similar areas. Technology companies, universities, nonprofits, research labs, and other organizations with technology expertise are invited to submit an expression of interest.”

IT pros interested in helping must complete an “Interest Form.” The state envisions 90-day deployments and is focusing on workers already working remotely, especially in the Eastern and Central U.S. time zones.

“Given that many employers are having many workers work from home, volunteers would collaborate virtually with New York State teams,” the state said. “So, preference will be given to those in the Eastern and Central US time zones, but we are open to the west coast as well.”

New York — especially New York City — has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and leads the nation in diagnosed cases.

The Devpost hackathon

Hoping to generate “software solutions that drive social impact,” Devpost has organized a COVID-19 Global Hackathon to try to fight the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re encouraging YOU — innovators around the world — to #BuildforCOVID19 using technologies of your choice across a range of suggested themes and challenge areas — some of which have been sourced through health partners including the World Health Organization and scientists at the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub,” Devpost said.

“The hackathon welcomes locally and globally focused solutions, and is open to all developers — with support from technology companies and platforms including AWS, Facebook, Giphy, Microsoft, Pinterest, Slack, TikTok, Twitter and WeChat, who will be sharing resources to support participants throughout the submission period.”

Devpost said it’s working with a number of partners including the WHO to find “key challenge areas” that tech innovation could help solve. Those areas include: accurate disease-prevention information “in languages/formats that resonate locally, as well as regional needs for expertise, resources/supplies and financial support from donors.”

The organization is focused on seven major areas, but suggested that developers use the technologies of their choice in any way they think they can make an impact. The seven highlighted areas include:

  • Health: Address and scale a range of health initiatives, including preventative/hygiene behaviors (especially for at-risk countries and populations), supporting frontline health workers, scaling telemedicine, contact tracing/containment strategies, treatment and diagnosis development.
  • Vulnerable populations: Problems faced by the groups of people who are disproportionately affected by the various health, economic, and social issues related to the COVID outbreak around the world, such as those with underlying health conditions or a thin social safety net.
  • Businesses: The set of problems that businesses are facing to stay afloat, collaborate effectively, and move parts of their business online.
  • Community: Promoting connection to friends, family, and neighbors to combat social isolation and the digitizing of public services for local governments.
  • Education: Alternative learning environments and tools for students, teachers, and entire school systems.
  • Entertainment: Alternatives to traditional forms of entertainment that can keep the talent and audiences safe and healthy.
  • Other: The above themes are just suggestions. Feel empowered to get creative!

The organization is working with a variety of companies, including Oculus, Uber, Evernote, Twitter, Twilio, Venmo, IBM, Microsoft and Qualcomm. The deadline to register for the hackathon is 12 p.m. ET Monday, March 30. Highlighted projects will be announced April 3.

N.Y. Times releases coronavirus dataset

The New York Times is making public its comprehensive datasets on coronavirus cases in the U.S. after requests from researchers, scientists, government officials and businesses looking to better understand the virus and model how the pandemic might evolve. The datasets are available on GitHub.

The Times has been tracking cases since late January “after it became clear that no federal government agency was providing the public with an accurate, up-to-date record of cases, tracked to the county level, of people in the U.S. who had tested positive for the virus,” the company said in a statement.

“We hope the dataset can help inform the ongoing public health response to the pandemic and ultimately, save lives,” said New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet. “We believe the data may help reveal how Covid-19 has spread through communities and clusters; which geographic areas may be hit the hardest; and how its spread in hard-hit areas may offer clues for regions that could face wider outbreaks in the future.”

The CTI cybersecurity effort

A growing number cybersecurity professionals calling itself the “CTI League” has banded together to help hospitals fend off hackers and other bad cyberactors. The group now has about 500 members worldwide and was launched earlier this month by Ohad Zaidenberg, lead cyber threat intelligence researcher at Israeli firm ClearSky Security; Nate Warfield and Chris Mills, security researchers at Microsoft; and Marc Rogers, executive director of security at Okta and an organizer of the DefCon hacking conference.

“If some hospital gets attacked by some ransomware and wouldn’t be able to pay, people will die because they wouldn’t be able to get the medical services needed,” Zaidenberg told NBC.

The CTI League, which collaborates on its efforts using Slack, looks for vulnerabilities hackers are targeting, then searches for hospitals or other medical facilities that may be vulnerable. “The first thing we want to do is neutralize attacks before they happen. The second is to help any medical organization after they are attacked,” Zaidenberg said.

Rogers told DARKreading.com that the CTI League has members in 40 countries. “It’s important to us that this is a global effort, because this is a global threat. That’s why we made the call worldwide, and were delighted when the world responded.”

Kaggle touts machine-learning challenge

Kaggle, an online community for data scientists and a platform for competitions, has unveiled a new bounty-paying challenge: the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset Challenge, or CORD-19.

CORD-19 asks AI and machine learning researchers to develop text and data-mining tools to analyze a dataset that includes tens of thousands of articles on virology and infectious disease. The goal is to help provide answers for 10 tasks, or lines of inquiry about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The prize fir each of the tasks in the challenge is $1,000, delivered as cash or as a charitable donation to research and relief efforts.

Intel allocates US $6M for coronavirus relief

The Intel Foundation plans to provide $4 million to back coronavirus relief efforts in areas where the company has a significant presence and is offering up to $2 million in matching funds for every regular full-time and part-time employee and U.S. retiree who wants to contribute to the COVID-19 fight. Intel will match contributions made until April 10.

The $4 million donation is aimed at community foundations and organizations focused on food security, shelter, medical equipment and small-business support. The matching donations will go to food banks, school districts and children’s hospitals helping local communities manage the pandemic’s impact.

In the U.S., donations are targeted at several states, including Arizona, California, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon and Texas. Internationally, donation areas include Costa Rica, India, Ireland, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico and Vietnam.

Facebook offers up Messenger

Social networking giant Facebook on March 23 unveiled two initiatives to help governments fight the pandemic using its Messenger chat service.

“We’re partnering with our developer community to provide free services to government health organizations and UN health agencies to help them use Messenger to scale their response to the COVID-19 crisis,” Facebook said. It highlighted efforts by Argentina’s Ministry of Health to provide updated, accurate information about the coronavirus.

UNICEF and Pakistan are also using Messenger to share information and advice about coronavirus.

Facebook is also working with the Devpost hackathon project aimed at fighting COVID-19.

 

Do you have a story that you think would interest our readers?
Write to us editorial@cio.co.ke

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.