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 to help fight COVID-19.

COVID-19 coronavirus / network of vectors
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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.

ViewSonic offers to help distance-learning efforts

ViewSonic is offering up its Professional Development team to provide one-on-one online support for educators "with any learning initiatives they may have, including topics such as: distance learning as a whole, tools for distance learning, curriculum development, as well as video creation or conferencing for lessons," the company said in a statement.

"Remote and distance learning lessons are definitely different than inside the confines of a classroom," said Blake Everhart, solution training manager at ViewSonic Americas. "As a former teacher, I understand there's sometimes a gap between learning the scope and sequence of the technology side that can match up with the lessons you want to teach. The ability to create and complete lessons, and how to filter through the many resources that are out there makes it tough to focus. That's why my team and I at ViewSonic are making ourselves available to help out and make things less overwhelming."

Educators who need help can seek it online here. The initative is free through June.

Salesforce touts Work.com for post-pendemic return to biz

Salesforce on Monday unveiled a website – Work.com – it says can help guide businesses as they look to return from work-at-home orders and deal with disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

"Work.com brings together the full power of health experts, business leaders and the Salesforce ecosystem in a resource center informed by the Business Roundtable and the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) with insights from business, health and government leaders as well as analysis, best practices and recovery stories from our trusted partner ecosystem," the company said in a statement.

The goal: "...help business and community leaders around the world reopen safely, re-skill employees and respond efficiently on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic."

Salesforce said the effort involves everything from contact tracing to emergency response management and employee wellness; The company also launched Salesforce Care, a free-for-90-days suite of solutions to help businesses stabilize amid the initial phase of the pandemic.

Arc launches 'Code Against COVID-19' effort

Developers in the Codementor and Arc communities, which include more than  500,000 developers across the globe, are offering to help with projects designed to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The goal of "Code Against COVID-19" is to connect organizations in need of development help for their projects directly with mentors and freelance developers, Arc said.

More than 200 developer volunteers have signed up for the effort and are working on more than 20 different projects, Arc said.

"We believe software can help combat this global pandemic, and that's why we're launching the Code Against COVID-19 initiative...," said Weiting Liu, founder and CEO of Arc. "From tracking outbreaks and reducing the spread to scaling testing and supporting healthcare, teams around the world are using software to flatten the curve. The eMask app (real-time mask inventory in Taiwan) and TraceTogether (contact tracing in Singapore) are just two of the many examples."

The list of developers offering to help out on COVID-19 projects is available online.

Coding Dojo's 'Tech for America' now has 190 volunteers

Tech education firm Coding Dojo has mobilized a network of more than 4,500 alumni to offer web and software development services on a volunteer basis.

“No one knows when society will go back to normal, but there is comfort to be found in that uncertainty,” said Coding Dojo CEO Richard Wang. “We’re all in this together, even if we’re isolated from one another. We hope Techfor America helps small businesses survive COVID-19 and believe programs like this will help us grow stronger as communities and as a country.”

Businesses needing help are should send an email to  techforamerica@codingdojo.com or fill out this Google Form. Once the request is submitted, organizations can be paired with volunteers based on locality, technology proficiency needed for a given project, and other factors.

The effort, which began in early April, now has 190 volunteers from 30 states and 11 countries. New volunteers can sign up using this Google Form.

Verizon Media offers devs new tools for COVID-19 data queries

Verizon Media unveiled three new resources for developers and data teams to help them better organize and understand publicly available COVID-19 data. The resources – a dataset, API, and dashboard that help engineers analyze and navigate COVID-19 data – are powered by the Yahoo Knowledge Graph.

"...Given the high volume of information, data and figures released daily, one way we can help is to play a role in organizing the content that exists, while also sharing our technology that allows us to create informative and interactive visualizations of the data available about this virus," Guru Gowrappan, CEO of Verizon Media, said in a statement.

Available under a Creative Commons license, the Yahoo Knowledge COVID-19 dataset provides worldwide locations, cases, deaths and recoveries, broken down by country, state and county level.

The information is compiled from government websites and healthcare organizations such as the WHO. The company also launched an API developers can use to explore the dataset and build their own coronavirus charts, simulations, and applications.

Earlier, the company responded to the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset Challenge (CORD-19) challenge from Kaggle and created another instance of the data set for queries.

"We thought the best way to help was to index the dataset, which includes over 44,000 scholarly articles, and to make it available for searching via Vespa Cloud," the company said in a statement. "Now live at https://cord19.vespa.ai, you can get started with a few of the sample queries or for more advanced queries, visit CORD-19 API Query."

The index is designed to allow medical professionals and researches to have quick access to information about the coronavirus. Details about how to contribute to that effort are avalable on github.

Bill Gates offers a pandemic battle plan

Former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates weighed in on his GatesNotes site with a lengthy description of what he sees is needed to fight the pandemic, arguing that innovation will be critical to stemming the damage from COVID-19.

"I see global innovation as the key to limiting the damage," Gates wrote. "This includes innovations in testing, treatments, vaccines, and policies to limit the spread while minimizing the damage to economies and well-being....

"...During World War II, an amazing amount of innovation, including radar, reliable torpedoes, and code-breaking, helped end the war faster," Gates wrote. "This will be the same with the pandemic. I break the innovation into five categories: treatments, vaccines, testing, contact tracing, and policies for opening up. Without some advances in each of these areas, we cannot return to the business as usual or stop the virus."

The lengthy document offers detailed descriptions of what's needed and is available for download as a PDF.

The Gates Foundation also offers a wealth of information about the pandemic.

USO goes virtual with aid from Verizon Media

The USO, long known for its live celebrity tours at military installations has gone virtual so the shows can go on – at least online. The USO suspended its trademark shows in MArch, as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened.

"The USO has always been by the side of our military and their families, and COVID-19 does not change this," said Alan Reyes, the organization's chief operating officer. "...With the help of military supporters, the entertainment industry and USO partners, we are providing virtual engagements and programming to boost morale during the pandemic...."

The USO's new virtual programming offers celebrities who conduct "virtual base visits" and make one-on-one calls with service members; pre-screening events; online workshops and classes; Q&As; and digital subscriptions for service members and military families. The current setup is expected to run through June.

Verizon Media is donating its digital media streaming platform to help the USO deliver the shows virtually. "Verizon Media is proud to support the USO with a world-class streaming delivery platform," said the company's CEO, Guru Gowrappan. "During this global pandemic, a few hours of entertainment can make a difference to our brave service members who are putting themselves in harm's way."

More information about the USO's efforts is available online.

10X Management, WhyHunger team up to fight pandemic hunger crisis

10x Management, a freelance developer hiring agency, has partnered with WhyHunger and software engineers Greg Sadetsky and Colin Wren to develop a comprehensive, crowd-sourced open-source interactive map of free meal sites in the U.S.

“Food insecurity has become one of the most immediate challenges of the COVID-19 economic fallout," said WhyHunger Executive Director Noreen Springstead. "With unprecedented unemployment sweeping the nation, hunger is on the rise and we are heading for a real crisis...."

Said Sadetsky: “...We saw a vital opportunity to use our mapping and software background, to create this resource to help aid individuals in their greatest hours of need. We’re proud to partner with WhyHunger to provide real-time information, increase access and combat food insecurity during this pandemic."

WhyHunger interactive meal site map WhyHunger

"This initiative not only leverages technology to solve a very critical problem, but it enables governments and community volunteers to give back in a safe and crucial way,” said Michael Solomon, 10x Management's co-founder and co-creator of the map.

The map is updated daily.

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."

The company will provide support for the equipment, if needed.

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."

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