3 Ways the Tech Community is Adapting to Fight COVID-19
As the global community comes together to address the impacts of COVID-19, there are a lot of uncertainties. How do we protect our most vulnerable communities? Where should we invest our resources? How do we work in alignment with others tackling the same problems? At Exygy, we’ve realized that in this uncertain world, there is one thing we know for sure: much of the technology to slow the impact of COVID-19 already exists; we just have to adapt it.
We are no stranger to rapid problem solving – which is exactly what this moment of crisis calls for. Our team has a track record of rapidly building and launching digital products:
- CAL FIRE’s state-wide wildfire incident alert system launched in five months.
- San Francisco’s affordable housing portal, DAHLIA, posted its first listing in four months.
- Our partners at Skoll Global Threats Fund track disease outbreaks worldwide, including preparing for a potential Zika outbreak during the 2016 Rio Olympics, which our team supported.
When a global crisis like COVID-19 hits, “reduce, reuse, recycle” is the most efficient tactic to get crucial technology out the door in a cost-efficient way. We know this because it’s personal; for 15 years, we have designed and built adaptable, intentional, and scalable technology that helps real people solve real challenges. Most recently, Boston Children’s Hospital leveraged the Flu Near You platform we helped redesign, to create a COVID-19 symptom tracker in just four days.
The Buzzard Philosophy
Omkar Kulkarni, Chief Innovation Officer at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, recently shared that one of his key takeaways during the coronavirus epidemic is finding ways to repurpose solutions already available because time and resources are extremely limited. Kulkarni calls this the “buzzard philosophy,” named after the way the crafty bird repurposes resources to survive.
In the past several months, we’ve seen other sectors embrace the buzzard philosophy; Tesla has started repurposing auto parts to build ventilators, Italian fashion house Prada is using factories to make face masks, distilleries across the country are using their alcohol to make hand sanitizers. There have been many instances where the local government has also stepped up to the plate. California Governor Gavin Newsome shared, “LA received 170 broken ventilators from the national stockpile. Rather than complaining, we put them on a truck, drove them up overnight, and … [got] to work fixing them. Monday they’ll be back in LA – fixed. That’s the spirit of CA.”
“We need more support, but at the end of the day we have to be resourceful in our mindset and our approach and use all the tools in our toolkit.”
– Governor Gavin Newsom
We take it to heart when we hear other leaders also calling for repurposing technology during this time of crisis. It’s crucial that the tech sector become more involved in not only adapting existing technology but also working in collaboration with others tackling the same problems. To that end, we’ve seen some phenomenal organizations lead the way.
A COVID-19 Symptom Tracker in Four Days
Exygy partnered with Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) on the development of FluNearYou.org, which collects public reports in real-time of people experiencing flu-like symptoms. We worked directly with BCH’s HealthMap team, which focuses on epidemic and pandemic research. FluNearYou features an intuitive design and scalable backend technology that enables the site to adapt to collecting not only influenza data but other symptoms as well.
During Hurricane Harvey, Flu Near You updated its platform to collect symptoms specific to those that hurricane victims would experience. As COVID-19 spread, BCH recognized the opportunity with some of its partners to gather more accurate reports on affected populations. Given the scalability of Flu Near You, their team (mostly volunteers!) replicated much of its design and product features to quickly build COVIDNearYou.org in less than a week. This tool is especially critical since current reporting methods only count those who go to hospitals – excluding people without health insurance and those who may not be sick enough to require hospitalization.
Scaling Low-Income Tax Services to CARES Act Rebates
Code for America is on a mission to make government accessible through digital services. Their newest project, GetYourRefund.org, launched in March. The platform helps low-income Americans claim tax credit through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) by transforming the IRS’ in-person Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program into a digital service. VITA supports CBOs across the country in recruiting, training, and certifying volunteers who help over 3.5 million people claim refunds each year. Code for America planned on spending the tax season piloting GetYourRefund with 5,000 people. Then COVID-19 turned our world upside down.
On March 27th, the CARES Act was signed into law in an effort to provide economic relief to millions of low-income Americans. However, Code for America saw that the program had a glaring shortfall: folks who haven’t been required or able to file tax returns may miss claiming their rebate. That subset of the population is pretty significant: 8 million eligible households currently do not claim their tax credits each year, leaving $10.5B in cash assistance unclaimed.
Code for America leaned into the opportunity to scale the platform and help vulnerable Americans file taxes and claim relief. They’ve quickly adapted GetYourRefund by creating new program roles, hiring additional team members, partnering with dozens of new VITA programs across the country, scaling engineering capacity to ensure secure, reliable infrastructure, and so much more.
Healthcare Collaboration during the COVID-19 Pandemic
The Innovation Learning Network (ILN) is a membership organization for healthcare professionals to learn and share knowledge while connecting with others passionate about innovation and design within the healthcare system. Knowing that their network had the potential to sprout a new innovation that could truly meet their constituents’ needs during this rapidly-evolving landscape, ILN pivoted their regular events to include “virtual coffee chats” – interactive, productive, and collaborative working meetings that harness the collective brainpower of innovators from diverse backgrounds and specialties.
Starting in March, ILN began hosting virtual coffee chats, with more to come in the future. Together, ILN’s members have harnessed generative brainstorming sessions into three projects – a model of how building bridges and being a catalyst for collaborative innovation – can make real, actionable change.
TLDR; The Barriers to Innovation No Longer Exist
The one truth we have about this uncertain, crucial moment is that we simply do not have time to jump through the usual hoops to create solutions. Boston Children’s Hospital created a COVID-19 tracker in four days, Code for America is making CARES Act rebates accessible for low-income households, and ILN repurposed their network to become a mini COVID-19 think-tank. Working together to repurpose our existing technology is the fastest way to innovate and adapt to the new COVID-19 world.
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