Tracing An Outline

The infrastructure of the future we need now; fighting the infodemic; astroturfing on steroids; and much more.


Civic tech responds: Our former managing editor Jessica McKenzie returns to Civicist to report on how Bed-Stuy Strong, a 2,800-member mutual aid network that has sprung up to help people in Brooklyn, has used tech to scale itself, and is still not able to keep up with the need for help.

Jen Pahlka, now helping USDigitalResponse.org, offers a meticulous guide to how states can scale up their Pandemic Unemployment Assistance programs.

Here are a bunch of new resources from the US Election Assistance Commission to help states stand up voting by mail. Seth Flaxman of Democracy Works points out that if states are really going to be ready by November, they’ve got to be in motion by the end of this week, sourcing ballot printers and getting planning going to place ballot drop boxes.

Related: Governor Mario Cuomo (D-NY) is planning to issue an executive order mailing absentee ballots to all registered New Yorkers so they can vote in the June 23 primary, Zank Fink reports for SpectrumNews.com. This is astonishing and very good news. (h/t Allison Fine)

Meanwhile, another New Yorker says he’s issuing an executive order banning all immigration to the United States and all I can say is…unprintable.

While Congress has still not addressed the urgent need to scale up funding for vote-by-mail, Alex Seitz-Wald points out for NBCNews.com that American soldiers have been voting by mail for well over a century.

Here’s how a group of New Yorkers based at Brooklyn’s New Lab prototyped a new ventilator design and then built it for market in just 30 days, as reported by Steve Lohr for The New York Times.

New Yorkers have crowdfunded $46,000 to place homeless fellow New Yorkers in hotels and they are calling on the city to supply 30,000 rooms to protect many more, Claudia Irizarry Aponte and Ben Fractenberg report for The City. (Half the city’s hotels are currently closed.)

InsidePhilanthropy’s Alyssa Ochs takes a close look at how funders in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, among the hardest hits states in the US, are responding.

HelpMainStreet.com gets a nice write-up from NY1.com; the site, which helps people buy gift cards to support local businesses, now features 16,000 establishments nationwide.

C40 has launched a curated portal full of information and case studies aimed at sharing the best practices cities are evolving to deal with COVID-19.

Text out the Count: New Yorkers who want to help text message fellow residents to remind them to fill out their US Census survey can sign up here. (h/t Gale Brewer)

Neighborland, which enables interaction between city and local agencies and residents, has been acquired by Nextdoor, the VC-backed neighborhood social network platform.

Rosebud, a synthetic photos startup, has released a new free tool that will take your profile picture and make a new one for you wearing a mask, in support of the Masks4all.co initiative.

Big congrats to Organizing 2.0 and its long-time co-founders Elana Levin and Charles Lenchner, who turned their physical event fully virtual in just a matter of weeks (using tools like Hopin and Sched) and hosted more than 1,700 attendees for dozens of panels last Friday and Saturday.

On the global front, here’s a great post-mortem by our friend Jakub Gornicki of Outride.rs, a journalism start-up that covers global issues with local impact, on how they pivoted from putting on an in-person conference to organizing a two-day online festival April 2-3 that drew 40,000 viewers.

And in the UK, a scrappy start-up called AccuRX that launched two years ago seeking to just make it easier for doctors to communicate with their patients by text message (“No AI, no blockchain,” the founder Jacob Haddad joked) has seen its usage blow up, with more than half the general practitioners in England using it to tell patients their test results for COVID-19, Rory Cellan-Jones reports for the BBC. (h/t Adam Bard)

Information disorder, continued: While a majority of news consumers in Argentina, Germany, South Korea, Spain, the UK, and the US are relatively well-informed about coronavirus, almost one quarter believe it was made in a laboratory, researchers from the University of Oxford and the Reuters Institute report. No meaningful variation was found between people who get their news online vs TV, radio and newspapers.

On the other hand, a new weekly briefing from the Oxford Internet Institute’s Hubert Au, Jonathan Bright and Philip Howard, the Coronavirus Misinformation Weekly, finds that “the average junk health news article about coronavirus receives about the same distribution as average articles from the BBC, Guardian, New York Times, and Washington Post.”

Tech and politics: Two thousand Israelis managed to rally Saturday night (against Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu) while maintaining social distancing in a giant grid that looked like a human game of dots.

The city of Milwaukee has identified seven people who voted in-person on April 7 (after efforts to postpone the state’s primary were blocked in the courts) who have since tested positive for COVID-19, Akela Lacy reports for The Intercept.

Five of the largest Facebook groups organizing people to protest state quarantine rules are run by four brothers from a family-run network of pro-gun groups, Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins report for NBC News.

Over the weekend, a commenter on Reddit discovered that many of the “{Statename} Against Excessive Quarantine” websites were all registered by the same entity, suggesting that “there’s an imperial ton of astroturfing going on.”

Health care workers are showing up to counter-protest, with masks on, at rallies calling for the relaxation of social-distancing, Joseph Darius Jaafari reports for the Pennsylvania Post.

Political scientist Lara Putnam reminds us that the last time thousands of Americans (actually tens of thousands) swarmed their state capitols and town squares to express their support for impeachment, the media’s response was a giant collective yawn. Now groups of a few hundred show up and it’s all over cable news.

Don’t miss this great New York Times profile of Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, whose long-standing criticism of Amazon’s overwhelming power is now gaining much more traction.

The big picture: A new Harvard study called The Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience from a large group of public health experts argues that by this summer we will need the capacity to do 20 million tests a day (along with supported isolation) to protect public health and allow a re-opening of society, if we want to avoid cycles of too-quick opening followed by new infection spikes and shutdowns. Here’s the key: “If we rely on collective social distancing alone to tide us over until a vaccine is available, the economy will be shut down on and off for 12 to 18 months, costing trillions of dollars. We can instead fully restart the economy by August through a program of massive investment in public health infrastructure, especially diagnostic and serological testing, combined with effective contact tracing-and-warning programs, and supported individual quarantine and/or isolation…. We estimate that steady-state testing levels that would permit replacing collective stay-at-home orders as the main tool for disease control with a testing—tracing-and-warning—supported-isolation, or TTSI, methodology will eventually need to reach a capacity to test 2 to 6% of the population per day, or between 5 and 20 million people per day.”

The study adds that “the cost of such a testing and tracing, or TTSI, program—$50 to 300 billion over two years—is dwarfed by the economic cost of continued collective quarantine of $100 to 350 billion a month.”

A new report from the Ada Lovelace Institute in the UK, titled “Exit Through the App Store?”, warns that plans to lift social distancing that rely primarily on digital contact tracing “will not be effective unless the Government takes action to address the technical limitations, barriers to effective deployment and social impacts of the technology. Premature deployment of ineffective apps could undermine public trust and confidence in the long-term, hampering the widespread uptake of tracking technologies which may be critical to their eventual success.”

Brave new future? LandingAI has created a new workplace monitoring tool that issues an alert whenever two people moved too close to each other.

End times: There was a woman from Cyprus, who sadly got coronavirus…Nah, this lad says it better

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