People

Want to use your tech skills to help during the pandemic? Here's how.

People around the tech world are stepping up with projects to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio

As cities like New York face massive shortages of personal protective equipment such as face shields, tech-savvy workers are stepping in to help.

Photo: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

It's not just big tech companies that are stepping up to fight coronavirus. We're building a list of grassroots projects launched by people in tech as the pandemic takes hold.

From data visualization dashboards helping doctors make sense of COVID-19's spread, to efforts to 3D-print face masks and deliver them to those in need, people in tech are using their skills to help flatten the curve. Check out our list for more information about them and how you can get involved.

Know about a project not on the list? We want to hear from you. Email us at corona-help@protocol.com or send us a tweet.

We will continue updating this post with more projects as we learn about them.

COVID-19 dashboards

With data scientists struggling to share information about the virus with each other, this project delivers a set of up-to-date visualizations based on data from the John Hopkins COVID-19 Data Repository. The project is led by Hamel Husain, a staff machine learning engineer at GitHub, and is supported by a team of open-source collaborators who gather data, make visualizations and perform analysis. "One of the most interesting uses of it is as a template," Husain told Protocol. "Since it's open source, people from a wide variety of backgrounds can use the code for their own purposes."

The tech skills most needed: Anyone with the potential to add a new visualization, or who can improve existing data visualizations. Here's the group's contributing guide. They're also looking for help cleaning, inspecting and fixing data from the Hopkins dataset. Their team also welcomes web developers interested in improving the site.

For your friends and family: It would be useful to have people of different backgrounds (epidemiologists, medical professionals and scientists, for example) reviewing the visualizations from their perspectives, Husain said.

How to get in touch: On Twitter, @HamelHusain.

COVID-19 testing and update system

A biotech researcher turned technology ecosystem builder is creating a digital list of people who want COVID-19 testing in order to disseminate localized information about testing capacity increases, changes in testing criteria and new testing facilities. The team is working with professors at the University of Southern California to verify and aggregate data from the CDC, state departments and other high-quality databases. They are also building a communication channel for people who have tested positive. "Just like you have for STI and STD notifications, we are creating an anonymous system for people who have tested positive to notify the network that they may have come into contact with," Erika Cheung, the project leader, told Protocol.

The tech skills most needed: Data scientists who are capable of building a public-facing dashboard to visualize area-based testing capacity, criteria and locations. Web designers who can make the data easy for the public to understand.

For your friends and family: They're looking for input from science communicators.

How to get in touch: Email covid19@spark-bio.com.

Columbia University staff producing 3D-printed face shields

After a cardiology fellow reached out for help, a group of digital and data research librarians at Columbia University optimized a 3D-printing face shield design to decrease production-time and began printing them to deliver to hospitals in New York. Columbia digital scholarship librarian Alex Gil told Protocol that he helped leverage a task manager tool in response to Hurricane Maria. "We need a grassroots switchboard like that that can help the many different maker communities working on masks coordinate on where and when to distribute them," Gil said. "Right now, we are just picking up the phone and calling hospitals individually."

The tech skills most needed: The creation of an overarching dashboard that the multiple groups making masks can utilize to know where masks are needed and coordinate on distribution, as well as an Uber-like system to help coordinate delivery drivers. Anyone with access to a 3D printer can use the group's design and ship 3D parts to the Columbia team to complete assembly of the masks.

For your friends and family: They are also looking for assistance delivering masks to hospitals in New York. They only have one driver right now.

How to get in touch: Email Alex Gil at colibri.alex@gmail.com.

Help with COVID

Help With COVID is becoming a main hub for those in the tech industry and beyond to find collaborators for coronavirus-related projects. The sleek, easy-to-use website allows anyone to ask for volunteers, tag the skills they need, and connect with people who respond. There's a Discord chat you can join, and there's even a section for "deals, offers and benefits from organizations that want to help out with COVID-19," where some tech businesses are offering their services for free to project organizers.

The tech skills most needed: You can post your contact information and technical skills so project organizers can get in touch.. (At the time of writing, almost 1,500 people from several countries had done so.)

For your friends and family: This site isn't just for the tech world — there's something for everyone. Try the "skills needed" search feature to see where yours are needed.

Open Face PPE Project, in collaboration with the NYU COVID-19 Task Force

Leaders across New York University have partnered with a group of volunteer engineers and designers to create open-source medical supply designs, including face shields and 3D-printed respirators. "The city has told us that millions of face shields are needed," said Steven Kuyan, managing director of the NYU Future Labs and a member of the university's COVID-19 task force. "A lot of companies can make thousands per day without realizing that they can."

For example, one Broadway set-design company "should be able to make over 130,000 shields in the next couple of weeks," Kuyan said. The shield requires no hardware or 3D-printed parts, and the task force has set up processes to secure and supply raw materials, and to distribute shields to medical facilities in direct coordination with the city. The team is looking to ramp up production of additional medical supplies soon.

The tech skills most needed: Connections in the manufacturing industry interested in utilizing their design.

For your friends and family: They are in need of additional plastic and elastic supplies.

How to get in touch: Email covid19.taskforce@nyu.edu.

Gift Card Bank

This project lets you donate unused gift card balances, bundles them together and gets the money to people who need it. It was launched by Stanford MBA student Khalil Fuller and several classmates, with the help of several developers who reached out after seeing the project on the Help with COVID website.

"We literally went from idea to launched website to receiving donations in five days," Fuller said. Fuller, whose background is in education nonprofit work, was on spring break feeling like he couldn't do anything to help when he had the idea and "went down this path of trying to understand the gift card landscape," he said. He discovered that an estimated $3 billion of gift cards go unused every year. "That's basically going back to big corporations — it feels like we should maybe be giving those to people in need instead," Fuller said.

The tech skills most needed: The front-end and design fronts are covered, Fuller said, but more help is needed to build the "deeper product side of things," including automating processing of donated gift cards.

For your friends and family: Anyone can donate unused gift card balances at giftcardbank.org.

How to get in touch: Email giftcardbankorg@gmail.com.


Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Columbia librarian Alex Gil helped in the creation of a task manager tool; in fact, he did not create the tool but helped in the use of it in response to Hurricane Maria. This story was updated March 30, 2020.

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