More than ever, it has become clear that data is a valuable resource as it helps experts in the field predict when the curve will flatten, helps communities keep track of infection rates, and helps kids continue their education even from home.
With help from ArcGIS, the city of Boston was able to create an app in roughly the span of a day that citizens can access to keep track of coronavirus cases, as well as areas to avoid. This mirrors some of the data usage being seen worldwide as countries roll out apps to track the spread of the virus or ensure that people under quarantine remain so. In a similar vein, Google released anonymous location trend data to the public showing how people in different countries and states were changing their pattern of movement after quarantine. It is their hope that it can be used by not just the individual, but by the agencies and governmental bodies trying to keep track of COVID-19 and its spread.
More companies have stepped up to offer free services for everyone from companies to emergency workers to individuals. Salesforce, for example, is offering free services for emergency response units. Tableau has made a “free data resource hub” to house data and information collected relating to the COVID-19 outbreak. Even Hulu has begun offering expanding its services by offering a free news channel to customers who have not purchased the live TV add on from them.
Perhaps what has been most uplifting, however, is the number of tech companies who have begun shifting their production towards items that help combat coronavirus specifically. Elon Musk declared that Tesla and SpaceX would switch to producing ventilators, but smaller companies have made their own progress:
As we all wait for the data on COVID-19 to show the curve beginning to flatten, tech companies will no doubt continue to design, engineer, and produce potentially life-saving breakthroughs. The quick response from within the tech world to bolster the communities they live in promises a shift in the landscape to better ensure future preparedness.
In the US, states like New York have established curfews, pared down the operations of restaurants, and even recommended self-quarantine. The latest measure, the unimaginable task of shutting down California. Even more companies have responded by creating action plans of their own for how best to slow the spread as they try to balance their bottom line, service to their customers, and the health and wellbeing of their employees. In the midst of this, another community has risen to the occasion by offering solutions to alleviate the stress of the coronavirus: the tech community.
In addition to pledging $20 million to go towards relief efforts, Facebook announced that it will be rolling out a program that dedicates $100 million to small businesses facing financial hardship in the wake of the coronavirus. The program will offer individual cash grants to 30,000 businesses in the 30 countries that Facebook operates in. Applications are not available yet, but will be within the next couple weeks as Facebook works to launch their platform. Those who are interested in being notified when it’s available are encouraged to sign up to learn more.
As far as resources go, members of the Big Tech community have pledged monetary contributions:
For help in distributing resources during the ongoing pandemic, Amazon has also changed up its operations. Their shipping centers will prioritize necessary items for healthcare (facemasks, baby food, etc.) until the beginning of April to ensure that they deliver top priority supplies first and foremost. Google, likewise, has begun rolling out a platform to help users gain access to free testing. Still in its early stages, the website Project Baseline hit capacity early into its official release, but while limited in scope, Google hopes to expand its reach to more areas to help more people gain access to testing.
In many cases, for those who don’t have access to testing, information on how best to avoid the coronavirus is crucial. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for misinformation to be spread. In order to combat this, social media and search platforms such as Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest have been proactive in rolling out measures to prevent the circulation of bad information as well as linking to CDC-backed prevention tips.
Many platforms have also begun offering their services or products for free in order to help keep small businesses and educational facilities from being forced to close down entirely:
Tech’s ability to contribute in unique and innovative ways has not gone unnoticed. On Monday, March 16th, the White House reached out to the tech community to help researchers answer pressing questions about Covid-19 by using AI to parse the massive collection of research available.
A vast online database (Cord-19) of all available research relating to the Coronavirus was released, compiled by Microsoft, NLM, CZI, and the Allen Institute for AI – with coordination provided by Georgetown University. But with the amount of data far more than any human can go through, the White House is now looking to AI to comb the research for them.
Those with the capabilities and interest should submit all text, data mining tools, and insights they develop via the Kaggle platform.
There is no doubt that more areas will be impacted than not and for some, the full impact may not be known until much later. For startup companies concerned with the state of Private Equity and Venture Capital firms, the air is uncertain. On the one hand, deals in Silicon Valley have certainly slowed down. Certainly, investors in the gas and oil industry have come to a halt in the wake of WTI prices falling below $23. On the other hand, many investors remain avid about their target investments, betting on a short term recovery – despite the effects of Covid-19.
All this uncertainty only demonstrates how important communication is currently as the world attempts to establish control over the situation. It’s therefore important for companies waiting for investors to keep an eye out and plan for scenarios in which the PE and VC market does slow down.
Technology companies and the services they provide continue to create solutions to mitigate the effects of the Coronavirus by helping companies and individuals return to some sense of normalcy – even during self-quarantine.
VR has made it possible for normally trafficked tourism sites to let people who cannot visit in person still take part in the exhibits through virtual tours. Museums such as the Smithsonian Institute and the American Museum of Natural History offer virtual tours and online exhibits. Several landmark sites such as Yosemite Park and the Great Wall of China also allow users to experience their beauty from the comfort of home through virtual tours and walkthroughs.
Several nursing homes have turned to the use of FaceTime and other communication strategies to ensure that their residents are still able to connect with others, even as the nursing homes are forced to disallow visitors for the safety of those in their care. Similarly, so as not to overwhelm the medical field, the current presidential administration has removed certain federal rules in order to make teledoc communications easier, making video chatting with doctors more accessible than ever.
It’s times like these that technology services really shine in their ability to connect people to the world around them. From allowing companies to begin telecommuting without the strain of the initial cost to helping teachers continue to educate their students, the tech community continues to open doors to innovative solutions for the strains of social distancing.