Venting

Why masks help; gig worker protests rise; open source ventilators; and much more.


Facing the Great Pandemic: While health authorities continue to debate the merits of wearing masks in public as a way to reduce the spread of COVID-19, this article by Jeremy Howard in Sunday’s Washington Post makes the most cogent argument I have seen for universal masking.

Whole Foods workers say they are staging a sickout today, protesting the lack of protections on the job. Instacart and Amazon workers staged walkouts yesterday. There are more than 100 active petition drives on Coworker.org from workers at dozens of companies, all protesting how their employers are treating them during the pandemic.

It isn’t just gig workers and food service workers who are in motion. General Electric workers who normally make get engines are protesting on the job, demanding that the company use its factories to help close the ventilator shortage, Edward Ongweso reports for Vice.

A retired respiratory therapist in Canada has made his design for a ventilator available on an open source website, Colin Butler reports for CBC News. Its inventor, John Strupat, says it costs $500 to make. A team of engineers, doctors and computer scientists centered at MIT is working on an open-source design for an emergency ventilator that could potentially be built for $100, David Chandler reports for SciTech Daily.

Data from Kinsa Health, which makes internet-connected thermometers, suggests that strong social distancing measures are reducing the spiking of fevers in many parts of the US, Donald McNeil reports for The New York Times.

Germany is considering giving people antibody tests and then issuing “Immunity certificates” to people who have established immunity, which might allow some people to return to work, but also raises questions about creating a two-tiered form of citizenship.

Civic tech responds: HelpMainstreet.com is a new project launched from the NYC Tech Corona Volunteers Slack channel that is crowd-funding critical cash donations to thousands of small businesses that are being decimated by the pandemic. In its first five days since launching March 18 it drove 8,000 clicks to business gift cards and it is now working to service more than 47,000 businesses across 16 countries.

The good folks at Luminary Labs have launched CovidX.org, bringing together their work tracking coronavirus needs and facilitating an open innovation index.

Our friends at ioby are offering a free webinar April 15 at 1pm EDT on pivoting to crowdfunding for nonprofits dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

Elucd, a start-up founded by Civic Hall network member Michael Simon, keeps pumping out useful information on how Americans are relating to the pandemic. Among their latest findings: 14% of Americans are doing little or nothing to isolate themselves from other people, despite the rising calls for social distancing.

In a bit of good news for civic tech longtimers, Meetup.com has divested itself from WeWork and is now going back to being an independent company.

Privacy, shmivacy: Our old friend Doc Searls has written a four-part series (1, 2, 3, 4) raising issues with  Zoom’s privacy policies. As of March 29, Zoom has clarified that it only surveils visitors to its websites (Zoom.us and Zoom.com) and says that it does not surveil the content shared between users in a Zoom conference. That said, the company is now facing a class-action lawsuit in California charging that the company is violating the state’s new privacy law because it sends user data to Facebook without proper consent, Joel Rosenblatt reports for Bloomberg. Here’s a useful guide from Consumer Reports on how to protect your privacy on Zoom.

Tech and politics: Joe Biden has only 4.6 million Twitter followers to Donald Trump’s 75 million, and 1.7 million Facebook fans to Mr. Trump’s 28 million, “and nothing resembling the president’s robust ecosystem of amplifying accounts” write Jim Rutenberg and Matthew Rosenberg for The New York Times, reporting on the Democrats’ efforts to catch up in the digital arms race.

Meanwhile, a network of far-right websites are building up disinformation about Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Isaac Stanley-Becker reports for The Washington Post.

Internet of shit: Harbor.im “is a luxury 2-month retreat in California, focused on weathering the storm during the global COVID-19 pandemic” that is promoting itself as a “community of makers, thinkers and doers that can become your sanctuary [and] give you an opportunity to meet, mingle, and collaborate with some of the brightest, forward-thinking individuals—no facemask required.” As best as I can tell, this is not a joke.

Deep thoughts: Here’s a useful intervention from Jumana Abu-Ghazaleh of Pivot for Humanity, for people in Silicon Valley wondering about their role in the future, post-COVID-19 world: “Let’s not aspire to make viruses anymore,” she writes.

Alan Rusbridger, the former editor of the Guardian, writes, “if this is the worst of times, it is also the best of times. In our anxiety we are drawing deep reserves of strength from others. In our isolation we are rediscovering community. In our confusion we are rethinking whom we trust. In our fragmentation we are rediscovering the value of institutions.”

End times: One Day More! And don’t be this person.

You are reading First Post, a twice-a-week digest of news and analysis of the world of civic tech, brought to you by Civic Hall, NYC’s community center for civic tech. If you are reading this because someone forwarded it to you, please become a subscriber ($10/m) and support our work or sign up for our newsletter and stay connected with the #CivicTech community.