The Innovator’s Pandemic

Before we begin, a quick note about the historical moment we find ourselves in:

We are in the midst of an unprecedented, global crisis. None of us have ever experienced anything like it, and it’s difficult to know how to react from day to day. It’s OK if you find yourself snacking a lot while staring out the kitchen window. It’s OK if you laugh at jokes that aren’t funny and cry at commercials. It’s OK if you rewatch the same episode of Bojack Horseman over and over; it’s OK if you’re not “productive.”

It’s OK to not know how to be.

There’s no map for any of this. Simply surviving is enough, so give yourself a break.

One thing we’ve found incredibly helpful over the past few weeks is recognizing the many ways, big and small, that people are coming together and bringing their skills to bear to mitigate the fear and the danger of COVID-19. 


The Big Ways 


On Tuesday, IntuitiveX and the U.S. / China Innovation Alliance presented a live, COVID-19 Technology Innovation Summit on Facebook. It was there Microsoft talked about Clara, their Coronavirus self-checker bot, created in collaboration with the CDC and really just an incredibly beefed-up version of their existing Healthcare Bot. Clara gives worried users a place to input their symptoms and decide if they need to see a healthcare provider or not.

Desney Tan, managing director of Microsoft Healthcare says: “We’re tracking millions of interactions each day with this chatbot. Microsoft is also tracking information about the outbreak.”

The tracking he’s referring to is the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset, a project with Seattle’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, designed to make information about COVID-19 more accessible to researchers. Microsoft is also monitoring the data flows to flag and remove “misleading information that’s popping up all over the place.”

Apple’s COVID-19 screening site and app have been released, and on them you’ll find questions designed to identify symptoms and lead the public to resources on social distancing. They’re also donating 10 million masks to healthcare workers around the world.

Verily, Alphabet’s life-sciences arm, has opened four, drive-through COVID-19 testing sites around California, and so far they’ve tested nearly 4,000 people. Sister company Google is producing and donating 2 million masks to the CDC Foundation, as well as pledging $250 million in “ad grants” to organizations like the WHO

Facebook launched a COVID-19 Community Help Hub that allows users to ask for help, get help, or make donations to non-profit organizations. Since its debut, more than 1 billion users have accessed the information shared by health authorities like the CDC and WHO on the Information Center tab and through the educational pop-ups. More than 100 million people clicked through to learn more from the sources directly. 

Facebook also donated 720,000 masks they had squirreled away “in case the wildfires continued.” That’s…very nice, but we can’t help but feel it’s very Logan’s Run for a company to stockpile nearly three-quarters of a million respiratory masks for reasons they didn’t feel it necessary to reveal.  

There Are No Small Ways 


Above when we said “small ways”? We lied — there aren’t any. At a time like this, anything we can do to help matters enormously. Whether you’re making a single mask for a neighbor who’s immunocompromised, or 3d printing medical supplies for your local hospital, everything counts. 

An open source group on Facebook is giving hundreds of makers and scientists a chance to share tips on making respirator masks, and virtual sewing circles are giving the homebound something to do to benefit themselves and their communities. A company that normally produces swimming goggles is now customizing their products for nurses. A lab at Stanford is testing a respirator that employs a snorkeling mask

And finally, Project n95 is helping to connect frontline healthcare workers with Personal Protective Equipment, and PPE Link is connecting anyone with supplies to healthcare workers in need around the country.

None of this, it should go without saying, should be necessary. One of the richest countries on earth should not be forcing its frontline healthcare providers to protect themselves with bandanas. But we’ve reached this moment in history, and we have to adapt.

Do something. Big or small, it helps. 


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