Wall Street needs to relax, as startups show remote work is here to stay

We are hearing that a COVID-19 vaccine could be on the way sooner than later, and that means we could be returning to normal life some time in 2021. That’s the good news. The perplexing news, however, is that each time some positive news emerges about a vaccine — and believe me I’m not complaining — Wall Street punishes stocks it thinks benefits from us being stuck at home. That would be companies like Zoom and Peloton.

While I’m not here to give investment advice, I’m confident that these companies are going to be fine even after we return to the office. While we surely pine for human contact, office brainstorming, going out to lunch with colleagues and just meeting and collaborating in the same space, it doesn’t mean we will simply return to life as it was before the pandemic and spend five days a week in the office.

One thing is clear in my discussions with startups born or growing up during the pandemic: They have learned to operate, hire and sell remotely, and many say they will continue to be remote-first when the pandemic is over. Established larger public companies like Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, Shopify and others have announced they will continue to offer a remote-work option going forward. There are many other such examples.

It’s fair to say that we learned many lessons about working from home over this year, and we will carry them with us whenever we return to school and the office — and some percentage of us will continue to work from home at least some of the time, while a fair number of businesses could become remote-first.

Wall Street reactions

On November 9, news that the Pfizer vaccine was at least 90% effective threw the markets for a loop. The summer trade, in which investors moved capital from traditional, non-tech industries and pushed it into software shares, flipped; suddenly the stocks that had been riding a pandemic wave were losing ground while old-fashioned, even stodgy, companies shot higher.

#aaron-levie, #cloud, #covid-19, #dion-hinchcliffe, #enterprise, #karen-mangia, #remote-work, #tc, #work-from-home

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AstraZeneca says it will likely do another study of COVID-19 vaccine after accidental lower dose shows higher efficacy

AstraZeneca’s CEO told Bloomberg that the pharmaceutical company will likely conduct another global trial of the effectiveness of its COVID-19 vaccine trial, following the disclosure that the more effective dosage in the existing Phase 3 clinical trial was actually administered by accident. AstraZeneca and its partner the University of Oxford reported interim results that showed 62% efficacy for a full two-dose regimen, and a 90% efficacy rate for a half-dose followed by a full dose – which the scientists developing the drug later acknowledged was actually just an accidental administration of what was supposed to be two full doses.

To be clear, this shouldn’t dampen anyone’s optimism about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. The results are still very promising, and an additional trial is being done only to ensure that what was seen as a result of the accidental half-dosage is actually borne out when the vaccine is administered that way intentionally. That said, this could extend the amount of time that it takes for the Oxford vaccine to be approved in the U.S., since this will proceed ahead of a planned U.S. trial that would be required for the FDA to approve it for use domestically.

The Oxford vaccine’s rollout to the rest of the world likely won’t be affected, according to AstraZeneca’s CEO, since the studies that have been conducted, including safety data, are already in place from participants around the world outside of the U.S.

While vaccine candidates from Moderna and Pfizer have also shown very strong efficacy in early Phase 3 data, hopes are riding high on the AstraZeneca version because it relies on a different technology, can be stored and transported at standard refrigerator temperatures rather than frozen, and costs just a fraction per dose compared to the other two leading vaccines in development.

That makes it an incredibly valuable resource for global inoculation programs, including distribution where cost and transportation infrastructures are major concerns.

#astrazeneca, #biotech, #ceo, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #fda, #health, #medical-research, #moderna, #oxford, #pfizer, #pharmaceutical, #tc, #united-states, #vaccine, #vaccines

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AstraZeneca’s best COVID vaccine result was a fluke. Experts have questions

Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020.

Enlarge / Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020. (credit: Getty| NurPhoto)

Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford made an exciting announcement Monday: the COVID-19 vaccine they developed together appeared up to 90 percent effective at preventing disease. But in the days since, that exciting news melted into a pool of confusion after it became clear that the 90 percent figure came about from a complete accident. Now, experts are scratching their heads over what actually happened in the trial and what it means for the vaccine’s future.

The questions all swirl around the vaccine’s dosage regimen. In initial press releases, AstraZeneca and Oxford explained that researchers had used two different dosage regimens to test their experimental vaccine, AZD1222. In one regimen, trial participants received two “full” vaccine doses, 28 days apart. In the other, participants received a half dose of vaccine followed by a full dose 28 days later.

Pooling results from trials in the United Kingdom and another in Brazil, the researchers found the two-full-dose regimen was 62 percent effective at preventing COVID-19—a good, but not great result. The half-dose/full-dose regimen, on the other hand, appeared 90 percent effective—a rather impressive result.

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#astrazeneca, #covid-19, #operation-warp-speed, #oxford, #sars-cov-2, #science, #vaccine

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What we can learn from contact tracing an entire province

Image of children in a line in front of an official with a sensor on a tripod.

Enlarge / Students have their temperature measured at Daowu middle school in China’s Hunan Province, part of the measures adopted to limit the spread of the coronavirus. (credit: Xinhua News Agency)

Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, there were a lot of big questions about the basic properties of SARS-CoV-2: how quickly did it spread, could it spread from asymptomatic people, what was the typical mortality rate, and so on. We quickly started getting answers on some of these, but they were all imperfect in various ways. We could trace all the cases in controlled environments, like a cruise ship or aircraft carrier, but these probably wouldn’t reflect the virus’s spread in more typical communities. Or, we could trace things in real-world communities, but that approach would be far less certain to capture all the cases.

Over time, we’ve gotten lots of imperfect records, but we’ve started to build a consensus out of them. The latest example of this—a paper that describes contact tracing all cases that originated in Hunan, China—provides yet another set of measures of the virus’s behavior and our attempts to control infection. Papers like this have helped build the consensus on some of the key features of things like asymptomatic spread and the impact of contact tracing, so we thought it was a good chance to step back and look at this latest release.

Trace all the cases

The new work, done by an international team of researchers, focuses on the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Hunan Province during the first outbreak after its origins in nearby Hubei. During the period of study, health authorities started by identifying cases largely by symptoms, and they then switched to a massive contact tracing effort and aggressive isolation policies. These efforts shut the outbreak down by early March. And, thanks to them, we have very detailed information on viral cases: 1,178 infected individuals, another 15,648 people they came in contact with, and a total of nearly 20,000 potential exposure events.

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#biology, #china, #covid-19, #medicine, #pandemic, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science

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We don’t have a COVID vaccine yet, but distribution is already messy

A sign on the entrance to a pharmacy reads "Covid-19 Vaccine Not Yet Available", November 23, 2020 in Burbank, California.

Enlarge / A sign on the entrance to a pharmacy reads “Covid-19 Vaccine Not Yet Available”, November 23, 2020 in Burbank, California. (credit: Getty | Robyn Beck)

Individual states will ultimately decide who will get the first 6.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, which will be distributed based on each state’s population rather than the levels of disease spread or number of high-risk people.

The approach, announced in a press briefing Tuesday, is a departure from earlier plans and reflects the frenzied effort to vaccinate a country of nearly 330 million as quickly as possible.

Top officials for Operation Warp Speed—the federal government’s program to swiftly develop and deliver COVID-19 vaccines and therapies—said at the briefing that the current approach is intended to “keep this simple.” However, the potential for state-by-state variation in early access to vaccines could easily become complicated—and time is ticking for states to get their distribution plans clarified. There’s just a matter of weeks before the Food and Drug Administration may grant an emergency authorization for a vaccine by Pfizer and BioNTech.

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#azar, #biontech, #covid-19, #hhs, #operation-warp-speed, #pfizer, #public-health, #science, #vaccines

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YouTube suspends and demonetizes One America News Network over COVID-19 video

YouTube today confirmed that it has suspended right-wing cable channel One America News Network (OAN or OANN for short). The penalty comes after a violation of YouTube’s stated COVID-19 misinformation guidelines. As a result, the network will be barred from posting new videos for a week, while its existing videos will also be demonetized for that period.

A spokesperson for the Google-owned video service offered the following statement to TechCrunch:

Since early in this pandemic, we’ve worked to prevent the spread of harmful misinformation associated with COVID-19 on YouTube. After careful review, we removed a video from OANN and issued a strike on the channel for violating our COVID-19 misinformation policy, which prohibits content claiming there’s a guaranteed cure. Additionally, due to repeated violations of our COVID-19 misinformation policy and other channel monetization policies, we’ve suspended the channel from the YouTube Partner Program and as a result, its monetization on YouTube.

The service has a three-strikes policy in place, with the first two strikes carrying their own policies. In addition to the above actions, the offending video has been pulled from the channel. This is OAN’s first strike. Per the site:

If we find your content doesn’t follow our policies for a second time, you’ll get a strike.

This means you won’t be able to do the following for one week:

  • Upload videos, live streams, or stories
  • Create custom thumbnails or Community posts
  • Created, edit, or add collaborators to playlists
  • Add or remove playlists from the watch page using the “Save” button

Full privileges will be restored automatically after the 1-week period, but your strike will remain on your channel for 90 days.

A second strike in a 90-day period would result in a two-week suspension. A third strike in a 90-day period would result in the channel’s termination.

OAN has become a personal favorite for Trump and his administration recently, particularly in the wake of fallout between the president and Fox News, after that long-favorite cable network called the recent election for opponent Joe Biden.

One America News also came under fire for videos like “Trump Won,” which falsely reported on the election’s results. YouTube opted not to pull that video over disinformation concerns, instead adding a warning and removing ads from the video, noting, “[w]e will continue to be vigilant in the post-election period.”

#apps, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #one-america-news-network, #policy, #trump, #youtube

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Proxyclick visitor management system adapts to COVID as employee check-in platform

Proxyclick began life by providing an easy way to manage visitors in your building with an iPad-based check-in system. As the pandemic has taken hold, however, customer requirements have changed, and Proxyclick is changing with them. Today the company announced Proxyclick Flow, a new system designed to check in employees during the time of COVID.

“Basically when COVID hit our customers told us that actually our employees are the new visitors. So what you used to ask your visitors, you are now asking your employees — the usual probing question, but also when are you coming and so forth. So we evolved the offering into a wider platform,” Proxyclick co-founder and CEO Gregory Blondeau explained.

That means instead of managing a steady flow of visitors — although it can still do that — the company is focusing on the needs of customers who want to open their offices on a limited basis during the pandemic, based on local regulations. To help adapt the platform for this purpose, the company developed the Provr smartphone app, which employees can use to check in prior to going to the office, complete a health checklist, see who else will be in the office and make sure the building isn’t over capacity.

When the employee arrives at the office, they get a temperature check, and then can use the QR code issued by the Provr app to enter the building via Proxyclick’s check-in system or whatever system they have in place. Beyond the mobile app, the company has designed the system to work with a number of adjacent building management and security systems so that customers can use it in conjunction with existing tooling.

They also beefed up the workflow engine that companies can adapt based on their own unique entrance and exit requirements. The COVID workflow is simply one of those workflows, but Blondeau recognizes not everyone will want to use the exact one they have provided out of the box, so they designed a flexible system.

“So the challenge was technical on one side to integrate all the systems, and afterwards to group workflows on the employee’s smartphone, so that each organization can define its own workflow and present it on the smartphone,” Blondeau said.

Once in the building, the systems registers your presence and the information remains on the system for two weeks for contact tracing purposes should there be an exposure to COVID. You check out when you leave the building, but if you forget, it automatically checks you out at midnight.

The company was founded in 2010 and has raised $19.6 million. The most recent raise was a $15 million Series B in January.

#apps, #cloud, #covid-19, #enterprise, #mobile, #mobile-apps, #proxyclick, #visitor-management

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Nearly 18,000 airport workers sealed in for testing after 7 cases detected

This photo taken on November 22, 2020 shows health workers in protective suits waiting to conduct COVID-19 coronavirus tests on staff at Pudong Airport in Shanghai.

Enlarge / This photo taken on November 22, 2020 shows health workers in protective suits waiting to conduct COVID-19 coronavirus tests on staff at Pudong Airport in Shanghai. (credit: Getty | STR)

Nearly 18,000 workers were sealed into Shanghai’s main airport Sunday and tested for COVID-19 in one night after authorities detected seven cases linked to the cargo unit of the facility.

Social media lit up with dramatic smartphone videos showing large crowds of workers pushing against guards in white hazmat suits in the airport’s parking structure.

By Monday morning, local authorities grabbed hold of the situations, tweeting out videos of the 17,719 workers in orderly lines waiting to get tested, with calm piano music playing in the background. According to The Washington Post, it remained unclear what happened to the workers after that—if they were still being held at the airport, if they were moved to a quarantine facility, or if they were allowed to go home.

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#airport, #cluster, #covid-19, #infectious-disase, #public-health, #science, #shanghai, #testing

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AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine shows success: Here’s how it stacks up to others

Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020.

Enlarge / Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020. (credit: Getty| NurPhoto)

AstraZeneca announced in a press release on Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine showed positive results in an interim analysis of clinical trial data.

The announcement marks the third vaccine to show strong efficacy in late-stage trials against the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Though AstraZeneca’s vaccine efficacy numbers are not as impressively high as those for the vaccines before it—mRNA vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna—AstraZeneca’s does offer some advantages over those vaccines.

In all, the news adds to ballooning optimism that effective vaccines could bring an end to the global crisis in the coming year.

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#adenovirus, #astrazeneca, #clinical-trial, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #oxford, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #vaccine

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First COVID-19 vaccine goes to FDA today for emergency authorization

Pfizer headquarters in Manhattan, New York City, United States on November 19, 2020.

Enlarge / Pfizer headquarters in Manhattan, New York City, United States on November 19, 2020. (credit: Getty | Anadolu Agency)

Today the US Food and Drug Administration will receive its first submission of a candidate vaccine to fight the pandemic coronavirus.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech announced early this morning that they are submitting the formal request to obtain an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA for the companies’ mRNA vaccine, BNT162b2.

The submission follows the celebrated news just Wednesday that the companies had wrapped up their Phase III trial and found the vaccine to be 95-percent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

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#biontech, #clinical-trial, #covid-19, #fda, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #pfizer, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #vaccine

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Mask up! How to choose and maintain the best masks for use against COVID-19

Smiling eyes of a handsome young man in times of Covid 19

Enlarge (credit: Hello Africa / Getty)

As the United States enters into the colder months and record-high daily cases of COVID-19 continue to be broken on successive days, finding the best mask for your needs is more important than ever. While wearing something is always better than nothing, unfortunately, finding masks that meet WHO and CDC guidelines isn’t a particularly easy or fruitful endeavor. It’s not hard to meet these recommendations, but researching and compiling the best masks on the market for a range of different needs proved that few manufacturers do. Fortunately, there are some.

We’ve written at length on the current pandemic, how it’s been handled, and how best to handle yourself through these discombobulating times. This article will hopefully serve as a useful refresher on some of those topics, particularly the latest science on masks, how to use them, and what to look for when buying them.

Based off criteria from the CDC and WHO, we’ll also highlight a few options that should help keep everyone safe, whether you’re an outdoor runner, hard of hearing, or just in need of a quality reusable mask.

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#best-masks, #cdc, #covid-19, #pandemic, #science, #who

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Pfizer and BioNTech to submit request for emergency use approval of their COVID-19 vaccine today

Two of the companies behind one of the leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates will seek approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization (EUA) of their preventative treatment with an application to be delivered today. Pfizer and BioNTech, who revealed earlier this week that their vaccine was 95% effective based on Phase 3 clinical trial data, are submitting for the emergency authorization in the U.S., as well as in Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan and the U.K., and says that could pave the way for use of the vaccine to begin in “high-risk populations” by the end of next month.

The FDA’s EUA program allows therapeutics companies to seek early approval when mitigating circumstances are met, as is the case with the current global pandemic. EUA’s still require that supporting information and safety data are provided, but they are fast-tracked relative to the full, formal and more permanent approval process typically used for new drugs and treatments that come before they’re able to actually be administered broadly.

Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine candidate, which is an mRNA-based vaccine that essentially provides a recipient’s body with instructions on how to produce specific proteins to block the ability of SARS-CoV-19 (the virus that causes COVID-19) to attach to cells. The vaccine has recently been undergoing a Phase 3 clinical trial, that included 43,661 participants so far. The companies are submitting supporting information they hope will convince the FDA to grant the EUA, including data from 170 confirmed cases from among the participants, and safety information actively solicited from 8,000 participants, and supplementary data form another 38,000 who that was passively collected.

While production is ramping globally for this and other vaccines in late stage development, and EUA will potentially open up access to high-risk individuals including frontline healthcare workers, it’s worth pointing out that any wide vaccination programs likely aren’t set to begin until next year, and likely later in 2021.

#australia, #biontech, #biotech, #canada, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #europe, #health, #japan, #medical-research, #medicine, #pfizer, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #vaccination, #vaccines

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CDC Thanksgiving guidance: No traveling, no outside-household members

A Norman Rockwell (or Rockwell-esq) depiction of Thanksgiving gathering.

Enlarge / Good luck not getting COVID! (credit: GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

In a rare press briefing Thursday, experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly urged Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving or gather with people outside of their “households”—defined as only the people actively living together in the 14 days prior to a gathering.

The stark message from the premier public health agency may not seem surprising given the dire state of the country. Spread of the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is out of control and at record levels. The United States reported more than 1 million new cases of COVID-19 in the last seven days alone. Hospitalizations are rising sharply, and health care facilities in several states are already overwhelmed. Deaths are also spiking. And there’s no end in sight. The situation is likely to only get worse as winter weather and holidays drive people indoors and together.

Still, the CDC’s press briefing drew awe from journalists, who have watched such briefings dwindle as the pandemic advanced. Numerous investigative reports have detailed how the Trump administration has sidelined, censored, and muted CDC scientists and officials during the global crisis.

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#cdc, #covid-19, #holiday, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #thanksgiving, #traveling

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Transfr raises $12M Series A to bring virtual reality to manufacturing-plant floors

The coronavirus has displaced millions of workers across the country. In order to recover, companies must focus on re-skilling their workforces in a measured and sustainable way. However, training and recruitment can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for companies, a heavy investment that is hard to explain during volatile times.

To Bharani Rajakumar, the founder of Transfr, the dilemma of displaced workers is the perfect use case for virtual reality technology. Transfr leverages virtual reality to create simulations of manufacturing-plant shop floors or warehouses for training purposes. The platform’s entry-level gives workers a way to safely and effectively learn a trade, and companies a solution on mass up-skilling needs.

At its core, Transfr is building a “classroom to career pipeline,” Rajakumar says. Companies have influence over the training they need, and students can turn into entry-level employees within vocational schools, on-site or within training facilities. Below is a presentation from the company highlighting the trainee experience.

Transfr’s core technology is its software. Hardware-wise, the business uses Facebook’s Oculus Quest headset with Oculus for Business, not the generic customer hardware available in stores.

Transfr makes money by charging a software-as-a-service licensing fee to companies, which can go for up to $10,000 depending on the size of the workforce.

Transfr started as a mentor-based VR training programming play. The business sold courses on everything from bartending to surgery skills, as shown below:

The shift to displaced worker training, Rajakumar says, came from realizing who had the purchasing power in the relationship of entry-level employees. Hint: It was the companies that had the most to gain from a higher-skilled worker.

Virtual reality has gotten an overall bump and better reputation from the coronavirus pandemic, but is yet to massively be adopted among edtech founders. Rajakumar thinks that it could be revolutionary for the sector. He first saw virtual reality when he attended a gaming conference in San Francisco in 2017.

“I can’t believe that gaming and pornography are the two big industries for this technology,” he said. “I don’t think anybody understands what this is gonna be for teaching and learning.”

Labster, which offers schools VR simulations of science class, had product usage grow 15 times since March. The company raised money in August to expand to Asia.

Labster CEO and co-founder Michael Jensen says that Transfr’s gamification and simply UX is good for adoption, but noted that production costs could be the biggest barrier toward making the company scale.

“It’s simply too expensive to build a stable, well-polished VR application still today, and all players, us included, need to think about reusability, testability and scalability to be able to truly succeed.”

Transfr is trying to lower costs by creating a catalog of work simulations, a Transfr virtual reality training facility of sorts, that it can then repurpose for each different customer. Each month, it adds to the training facility with new jobs that are in demand, helping it scale without needing to start from scratch with each new customer. Since March, Transfr’s customers have quadrupled.

Most notably, though, is Transfr’s recent work in Alabama. The company is behind a statewide initiative in Alabama where its software is being used in the community college system and industrial workforce commission for re-skilling purposes. It’s through these large contracts that Transfr will truly be able to scale in its mission to train workforces. Rajakumar hopes to sign 10 to 15 similar contracts in the next year.

It’s an ambitious goal, and one worth raising financing to achieve. Transfr today announced that it has raised $12 million in a round led by Firework Ventures . The money will primarily be used to grow Transfr’s catalog of virtual reality simulations. While the company is not yet profitable, Rajakumar says that Transfr “could be” if they wanted to move at a slower growth rate.

“Before COVID, people would say we’re such good Samaritans for working on workforce development,” he said. “In a post-COVID world, people say that we’re essential.”

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #education, #firework-ventures, #fundings-exits, #gadgets, #re-skilling, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #transfr, #virtual-reality, #vr

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Caribbean cruise COVID outbreak expands; Cruise line cancels voyages

A relatively small luxury liner at sea.

Enlarge / A SeaDream cruise liner sailing into the sunset. (credit: Courtesy of SeaDream Yacht Club)

Plans for luxury cruises have quickly—and perhaps predictably—run aground in the Caribbean.

Cruise ship-operator SeaDream Yacht Club this week canceled all voyages for the rest of the year after one of its ships—the first to resume sailing in the region amid the pandemic—was wrecked by a COVID-19 outbreak last week.

So far, at least seven of the 53 passengers and two of the 66 crew aboard the yacht-style SeaDream I liner have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. The infected and those testing negative have since disembarked.

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#caribbean, #covid-19, #cruise, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #seadream

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Pfizer reports final vaccine results: 95% efficacy

An illustration picture shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached, with the logo of US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, on November 17, 2020.

Enlarge / An illustration picture shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached, with the logo of US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, on November 17, 2020. (credit: Getty | JUSTIN TALLIS)

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech announced Wednesday that they have wrapped up the Phase III trial of their COVID-19 mRNA vaccine, finding it to be 95 percent effective at preventing disease and consistently effective across age, gender, race, and ethnicity demographics. The vaccine appeared effective at preventing cases of severe disease as well.

The companies added that they have also met a safety milestone—collecting a median of two months of safety monitoring data on trial participants—to file a request for an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) with the US Food and Drug Administration. They plan to file the request “within days.”

“The study results mark an important step in this historic eight-month journey to bring forward a vaccine capable of helping to end this devastating pandemic,” Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer Chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “We continue to move at the speed of science to compile all the data collected thus far and share with regulators around the world.”

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#biontech, #covid-19, #fda, #immunization, #pfizer, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #vaccine

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Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine is 95% effective in final clinical trial results analysis

Drugmaker Pfizer has provided updated analysis around its COVID-19 vaccine Phase 3 clinical trial data, saying that in the final result of its analysis of the 44,000-participant trial, its COVID-19 vaccine candidate proved 95% percent effective. This is a better efficacy rate than Pfizer reported previously, when it announced a 90% effectiveness metric based on preliminary analysis of the Phase 3 trial data.

This result also follows a preliminary data report from Moderna about their own Phase 3 trial of their vaccine candidate, which they reported showed 94.5% effectiveness. Pfizer and partner BioNTech’s vaccine is an mRNA-based preventative treatment, similar to the Moderna one, and now it looks like they should be roughly similar in efficacy – at least in the early offing, based on a limited sample of total cases and prior to peer review by the scientific community, which is yet to come.

The Pfizer data in its final analysis shows that among a total of 170 confirmed COVID-19 cases so far among the 44,000 people who took part in the study, 162 cases came from the placebo group while only eight were from the group of those who received the actual vaccine candidate. The company also reported that 9 out of 10 of the severe cases among those who were infected occurred in the placebo group, suggesting that even in the rare occasion that the vaccine didn’t prevent contraction of COVID-19, it helped reduce its severity.

This should help Pfizer make its case that it be granted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be able to provide the vaccine early pending full and final approval as an emergency measure. Earlier this week, the company reported that it has already collected two months’ worth of follow-up data about participants in its trial, which is a required component for said approval, and it’s pursuing it with hopes of seeking that EUA “within days.” The company intends to ramp production of its vaccine beginning later this year, and achieving a run rate of up to 1.3 billion doses by next year.

#biontech, #biotech, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #health, #medical-research, #medicine, #moderna, #pfizer, #tc, #vaccine, #vaccines

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A Biden presidency doesn’t need a Green New Deal to make progress on climate change

Even without a Green New Deal, the sweeping set of climate-related initiatives many Democrats are pushing for, President-elect Joe Biden will have plenty of opportunities to move ahead with much of the ambitious energy transformation plan as part of any infrastructure or stimulus package.

Should Republicans manage to maintain control of the Senate, there are still several opportunities to build climate-friendly policies into the infrastructure and stimulus bills Congress will be pushing through as its first orders of business, according to experts, investors and advisors to the President-elect.

That’s good news for established companies and the wave of startups focused on technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global climate change. And these changes could happen despite intransigence from even moderate Republicans like Mitt Romney on climate issues.

“I think people are saying that conservative principles still account for a majority of public opinion in our country,” Romney said on “Meet the Press” Sunday. “I don’t think they want to sign up for a Green New Deal. I don’t think they want to sign up for getting rid of coal or oil or gas. I don’t think they’re interested in Medicare for All or higher taxes that would slow down the economy.”

Already, current market conditions are forcing some of the largest oil, gas and energy companies to transition to renewables. As those companies begin closing refineries in the U.S., Congress is going to feel increasing pressure to find a way to replace those jobs.

For instance, Shell announced earlier this month in Louisiana that it was closing a factory and laying off roughly 650 workers. The closure is primarily due to declining demand for oil brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, but both Netherlands-headquartered Shell and its U.K.-based counterpart BP believe fossil fuel consumption may have reached its peak in 2019 and is headed for long-term decline.

U.S. oil and gas giants aren’t immune from the economic impacts of COVID-19 and a global shift away from fossil fuels either. Two of the largest companies, Chevron and ExxonMobil, have seen their share prices decline over the past year as the oil industry reckons with steep reductions in demand and other market pressures.

Meanwhile, some of the nation’s largest utilities are working to phase out fossil fuel-based power generation.

The markets are already supporting the transition to renewable energy, without much government guidance, at least here in the U.S. So against this backdrop, the question isn’t if the government should be supporting the transition to renewable energy, but how quickly stimulus can be mobilized to save American jobs.

“A lot of the really consequential climate-related stuff that’s going to come out in the [near term] … won’t actually be related to renewables,” an advisor to the President-elect said.

So the questions become: What will economic stimulus look like? How will it be distributed? and how will it be financed?

Economic stimulus, COVID-19 and climate

President-elect Biden has already spelled out the first priorities for his incoming administration. While trying to manage the COVID-19 pandemic that has already killed over 238,000 Americans comes first, dealing with the economic fallout caused by the response to the pandemic will quickly follow.

Climate-friendly initiatives will loom large in that effort, analysts and advisors indicate, and could be a boon to new technology companies — as well as longtime players in the fossil fuels business.

“If we are going to be spending that money, there is an enormous opportunity to make sure that these investments are moving us forward and not recreating problems,” said one advisor to the Biden campaign earlier this year.

To understand how the trillions of dollars that are up for grabs will be spent, it’s helpful to think in terms of short-, medium- and long-term goals.

In the short term, the focus will be on “shovel-ready” projects that can be spun up as quickly as possible. These would be initiatives like environmental retrofits and building upgrades; repairing and upgrading water systems and electricity grids; providing more manufacturing incentives for electric vehicles; and potentially boosting money for environmental remediation and reclamation projects.

In all, that spending could total $750 billion by some estimates and would be used to get Americans back to work with a focus on industrial and manufacturing jobs that could have long-term benefits for the national economy — especially if that spending targets the government-designated Opportunity Zones carved out around the country to help low-income rural and urban communities.

If these efforts incorporate Opportunity Zones, there’s a chance to deploy the cash even faster. And if there are ways to preferentially rank infrastructure projects that also include a tech component, then that’s even better for startups who have managed to overcome hurdles associated with technology risk.

“Any time you craft policy, especially federal policy, you have to be so careful that the incentives line up correctly with what you’re trying to achieve,” said a Biden advisor.

Medium- and longer-term goals will likely require more time to plan and develop, because they’re relying on newer technologies in some cases, or they will have to wind their way through the planning process at the local and state levels before they can receive federal funds to begin construction.

Expect another $60 billion to be spent on these projects to finance development, workforce training and reskilling to prepare a labor force for a different kind of labor market.

Incentives over mandates 

One of the biggest risks that Biden administration climate policies face is the potential for legal challenges heard before an increasingly sympathetic conservative judiciary appointed under the Trump administration.

These challenges could force the Biden team to emphasize the financial benefits of adopting business-friendly carrots over regulatory sticks.

“Whenever possible you do want to let the markets figure themselves out,” said the advisor to the President-elect. “You always want to default to incentives rather than mandates.”

Coming off of the news this week that Pfizer has received positive results for its vaccine, there are some models from the current administration’s progress on a COVID-19 vaccine that can be instructive.

While Pfizer wasn’t involved in the Operation Warp Speed program created by the Department of Health and Human Services, the company did cut a $2 billion deal with the government that guaranteed a market for its vaccines.

The type of public-private partnerships that Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy mentions could also be employed in the climate space — especially in areas that will be hardest hit by the transition away from coal.

Some of that spending guarantee could come in the form of environmental remediation for orphaned natural gas wells or coal mining operations — especially in regions of the country like the Dakotas, Montana, West Virginia and Wyoming, that would be hardest hit by a transition away from fossil fuels. Some could come from the development of new geothermal engineering projects that require the same kind of skills that engineering firms and oil companies have developed over the past decades.

And, there’s the looming promise of a hydrogen-based economy, which could take advantage of some of the existing oil-and-gas infrastructure and expertise that exists in the country to transition to a cleaner energy future (n.b., that’s not necessarily a clean energy future, but it’s a cleaner one).

Already, nations like Japan are building the groundwork for replacing oil with hydrogen fuels, and these kinds of incentive-based programs and public-private partnerships could be a big boost for startups in a number of industries as well.

Image Credits: Cameron Davidson/Getty Images

Sharing the wealth (rural edition)

Any policies that a Biden administration enacts would have to focus on economic opportunity broadly, and much of the proposed plan from the campaign fulfills that need. One of its key propositions was that it would be “creating good, union, middle-class jobs in communities left behind, righting wrongs in communities that bear the brunt of pollution, and lifting up the best ideas from across our great nation — rural, urban and tribal,” according to the transition website.

An early emphasis on grid and utility infrastructure could create significant opportunities for job creation across America — and be a boost for technology companies.

“Our electric power infrastructure is old, aging and not secure,” said Abe Yokell, co-founder of the energy and climate-focused venture capital firm Congruent Ventures. “From an infrastructure standpoint, transmission distribution really should be upgraded and has been underinvested over the years. And it is in direct alignment with providing renewable energy deployment across the U.S. and the electrification of everything.”

Combining electric infrastructure revitalization with new broadband capabilities and monitoring technologies for power and water would be a massive windfall for companies like Verizon (which owns TechCrunch), and other networking companies. It also provides utilities with a way to adjust their rates (which they appreciate).

Those infrastructure upgrades are also useful in helping utilities find a way to repurpose stranded coal assets that are both costly and — increasingly — useless.

“Coal … it doesn’t make sense to burn coal anymore,” Yokell said. “People are doing it even though it’s out of the money for liability reasons … everyone is looking to retire coal even in the assets.”

If those assets can be decommissioned and repurposed to act as nodes on a distributed energy grid using energy storage to smooth capacity in the same way that those coal plants used to, “it’s a massive win,” according to Yokell. Adoption of energy storage used to be a cost issue, Yokell said. “It’s now a siting issue.”

Repowering old hydroelectric assets with newer, more efficient technologies offer another way to move the needle with shovel-ready projects and is an area where startups could stand to benefit from the push. It’s also a way to bring jobs to rural communities.

The promise of infrastructure spending can be born out across urban and rural areas, but the stimulus benefits don’t end there.

For rural communities there are business opportunities in “climate-smart agriculture, resilience and conservation, including 250,000 jobs plugging abandoned oil and natural gas wells and reclaiming abandoned coal, hardrock and uranium mines,” as the Biden transition team notes. And there’s a huge opportunity for oil industry workers to find jobs in the new and growing tech-enabled geothermal energy industry.

The farm subsidies that have skyrocketed under the Trump administration could continue, just with a more climate-focused bent. Instead of literally giving away the farm to the tune of a projected $46 billion that the Trump administration will hand out to farmers over the course of 2020, payouts could be predicated on “carbon farming.” Wooing the farm vote with the promise of payouts for carbon sequestration could be a way to restart a conversation around a carbon price (a largely failed prospect in government circles). Beyond carbon sequestration, rapid innovations in synthetic biology for biomaterials, coatings and even food could take advantage of the big biofuel fermenters and feedstocks in the Midwest to enable a new biomanufacturing industry.

Furthermore, the expansion of rail lines thanks to the fracking and oil boom means opportunities and the potential to build out other types of manufacturing capacity that can be transported across the U.S.

vw-plant-tennessee

Volkswagen broke ground Wednesday, November 13, 2019 on an $800 million factory expansion in Tennessee that will be the North American hub of its electric vehicle plans. Image Credits: Volkswagen

Sharing the wealth (urban edition) 

The same spending that could juice rural economies can be equally applied in America’s largest cities. Any movement to boost the auto industry through incentives around electric vehicles or federal mandates to upgrade fleets would do wonders for automakers and the original equipment manufacturers that supply them.

Public-private partnerships for urban infrastructure could first receive support from funds devoted to planning and managing upgrades. That could boost the adoption of new tech from startup companies around the country, while creating new jobs for a significant number of workers through implementation.

One large area where urban economic revitalization and climate policies can intersect is in the relatively unsexy area of weatherization, energy efficient appliance installation and building retrofits.

“Local governments across the country are highly interested in the green economy and transitioning to the low-carbon economy,” said Lauren Zullo, the director of environmental impact at the real estate management firm, Jonathan Rose Companies. “Cities are really looking to partner with the private real estate sector because they know we’re going to have to get buildings involved in the green economy. And any work that you do retrofitting local buildings is literally local economy.”

By channeling dollars into green retrofits and the deployment of distributed renewable energy, local economies will get a huge boost — and one that disproportionately will go to helping the communities that have been on the front lines of climate change.

You saw … a lot of investment made just this way out of the Recovery Act,” Zullo said, referring to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the stimulus bill passed in the first term of the Obama administration. “A lot of [funds] focused on low-income weatherization that were earmarked for low income and affordable housing. [Those] funds have allowed us to reduce energy consumption anywhere from 30% to 50% … and being able to gain those utility cost savings have been transformational to those communities.”

Why are these programs so important? Zullo explained further, “Low-income folks are disproportionately burdened by utility and energy costs. Any sort of energy-saving opportunities that we can earmark or target in these low-income communities is truly impactful … not just on a carbon footprint, but on the lives and success of these low-income communities.”

Paying for it

For even this more-modest legislation to make it through Congress, a Biden administration will have to answer the questions of who would pay for the stimulus and how it would get distributed.

In a tweet, the political commentator Matthew Yglesias proffered that the country could afford “to throw an ice cream party.” That policy would enable Republicans to keep the tax cuts while allowing the government to continue to spend on stimulus measures.

“[Interest] rates are very low. The country can afford an ice cream option where we spend money on some good things and ‘offset’ with tax cuts,” Yglesias wrote.

To distribute the funds, Congress could set up a body similar to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), which was established by Herbert Hoover’s administration back at the start of the Great Depression. It was expanded under Franklin Delano Roosevelt to disburse funds to financial institutions, farms and corporations at risk of collapse.

While the success of the institution itself is somewhat murky, the RFC along with federal deposit insurance and the related Commodity Credit Corporation (which, unlike the RFC, still exists) laid the groundwork for the country to emerge from the Great Depression and gear up manufacturing to engage with a world at war in the 1940s.

The durability of the CCC could provide a model for any infrastructure credit corporation that the government may want to establish.

Some investors support the idea. “It’s more about channeling dollars to state, municipal or private businesses with the ability to underwrite heavily subsidized loans to any entity proposing a modern infrastructure project that could be paid through municipal bonds or tolling,” said one investor in the infrastructure space. “It would offer a credit backstop to anyone who wanted to invest in infrastructure and could have a technological requirement associated with it.”

Several investors suggested that capital from loans paid out through the infrastructure bank could finance the reshoring of industry, with potential tax revenues from the businesses offsetting some of the costs of the loans. Some of these measures could have additional economic benefits if the loans get funneled through local financial institutions as well.

“If you think about a vehicle to deliver these funds, you already have an existing architecture to deliver this … which is the municipal bond market,” said Mark Paris, a managing partner at Urban.us, a venture capital fund focused on urban infrastructure. 

The infrastructure answer

There’s no shortage of levers that the Biden administration can pull to reverse the course of the Trump administration’s policies on climate change, but many of these federal policy changes are likely to face challenges in courts.

Vox’s David Roberts has an excellent run down of some of the direct actions that Biden can take along the path toward decarbonization of the U.S. economy. They include restoring the over 125 climate and environmental regulations that the Trump presidency reversed or rolled back; working with the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a new, more sweeping version of the original Obama-era Clean Power Plan; push the Department of Transportation’s development of new fuel economy standards; and supporting California’s own, very aggressive vehicle standards.

Biden can also encourage financial markets to make more of an effort to price climate risk into their financial models for investment, which would further encourage investment in climate-friendly businesses and a divestment from fossil fuels, as Roberts notes.

Some of America’s largest financial services institutions are already doing just that, and oil-and-gas companies are wrestling with the need to transition to renewable or emission-free fuels as their share prices take a pummeling and demand plummets on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Mother Jones suggested last year, a Biden administration could declare climate change a national security emergency, in the same way that the Trump administration declared immigration to be a national security emergency. That would give Biden extensive powers to reshape the economy and directly influence industrial policy.

Declaring a national climate emergency would give Biden the powers he needs to enact much of the infrastructure initiatives that comprise the President-elect’s energy plan, but not a popular mandate to support it.

Before taking that step, Biden may choose to try and exhaust all legislative options first. In a divided Congress that means focusing on infrastructure, jobs and industry incentives.

“The impacts of climate change don’t pick and choose. That’s because it’s not a partisan phenomenon. It’s science. And our response should be the same. Grounded in science. Acting together. All of us,” Biden said in a September speech.

“These are concrete, actionable policies that create jobs, mitigate climate change and put our nation on the road to net-zero emissions by no later than 2050,” he said. “We can invest in our infrastructure to make it stronger and more resilient, while at the same time tackling the root causes of climate change.”

#covid-19, #energy, #energy-storage, #government, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #greentech, #manufacturing, #oil-and-gas, #oil-and-gas-infrastructure, #renewable-energy, #tc, #transportation

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Construction tech startups are poised to shake up a $1.3-trillion-dollar industry

In the wake of COVID-19 this spring, construction sites across the nation emptied out alongside neighboring restaurants, retail stores, offices and other commercial establishments. Debates ensued over whether the construction industry’s seven million employees should be considered “essential,” while regulations continued to shift on the operation of job sites. Meanwhile, project demand steadily shrank.

Amidst the chaos, construction firms faced an existential question: How will they survive? This question is as relevant today as it was in April. As one of the least-digitized sectors of our economy, construction is ripe for technology disruption.

Construction is a massive, $1.3 trillion industry in the United States — a complex ecosystem of lenders, owners, developers, architects, general contractors, subcontractors and more. While each construction project has a combination of these key roles, the construction process itself is highly variable depending on the asset type. Roughly 41% of domestic construction value is in residential property, 25% in commercial property and 34% in industrial projects. Because each asset type, and even subassets within these classes, tends to involve a different set of stakeholders and processes, most construction firms specialize in one or a few asset groups.

Regardless of asset type, there are four key challenges across construction projects:

High fragmentation: Beyond the developer, architect, engineer and general contractor, projects could involve hundreds of subcontractors with specialized expertise. As the scope of the project increases, coordination among parties becomes increasingly difficult and decision-making slows.

Poor communication: With so many different parties both in the field and in the office, it is often difficult to relay information from one party to the next. Miscommunication and poor project data accounts for 48% of all rework on U.S. construction job sites, costing the industry over $31 billion annually according to FMI research.

Lack of data transparency: Manual data collection and data entry are still common on construction sites. On top of being laborious and error-prone, the lack of real-time data is extremely limited, therefore decision-making is often based on outdated information.

Skilled labor shortage: The construction workforce is aging faster than the younger population that joins it, resulting in a shortage of labor particularly for skilled trades that may require years of training and certifications. The shortage drives up labor costs across the industry, particularly in the residential sector, which traditionally sees higher attrition due to its more variable project demand.

A construction tech boom

Too many of the key processes involved in managing multimillion-dollar construction projects are carried out on Excel or even with pen and paper. The lack of tech sophistication on construction sites materially contributes to job delays, missed budgets and increased job site safety risk. Technology startups are emerging to help solve these problems.

Here are the main categories in which we’re seeing construction tech startups emerge.

1. Project conception

  • How it works today: During a project’s conception, asset owners and/or developers develop site proposals and may work with lenders to manage the project financing.
  • Key challenges: Processes for managing construction loans are cumbersome and time intensive today given the complexity of the loan draw process.
  • How technology can address challenges: Design software such as Spacemaker AI can help developers create site proposals, while construction loan financing software such as Built Technologies and Rabbet are helping lenders and developers manage the draw process in a more efficient manner.

2. Design and engineering

  • How it works today: Developers work with design, architect and engineering teams to turn ideas into blueprints.
  • Key challenges: Because the design and engineering teams are often siloed from the contractors, it’s hard for designers and engineers to know the real-time impact of their decisions on the ultimate cost or timing of the project. Lack of coordination with construction teams can lead to time-consuming changes.
  • How technology can address challenges: Of all the elements of the construction process, the design and engineering process itself is the most technologically sophisticated today, with relatively high adoption of software like Autodesk to help with design documentation, specification development, quality assurance and more. Autodesk is moving downstream to offer a suite of solutions that includes construction management, providing more connectivity between the teams.

    #artificial-intelligence, #banking, #column, #construction, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #document-management, #financial-services, #labor, #machine-learning, #project-management, #real-estate, #startups, #venture-capital

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“Staggering and Tragic”: COVID-19 cases spike in US children, top 1 million

A woman in protective gear leans over a toddler in a bed.

Enlarge / Boston Medical Center Child Life Specialist Karlie Bittrich sees to a baby while in a pediatrics tent set up outside of Boston Medical Center in Boston on April 29, 2020. (credit: Getty | Boston Globe)

As COVID-19 cases skyrocket throughout the country, cases are also spiking in infants, children, and adolescents, and the group is now sharing more of the disease burden than ever recorded.

Cases in the young jumped 22 percent in the two weeks between October 29 and November 12, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The week ending on November 12 saw the largest one-week spike recorded in the pandemic, with 112,000 new cases.

There have now been more than 1 million cases in infants, children, and adolescents—collectively “children”—and the group is making up a larger proportion of cases than before. Children now make up 11.5 percent of total cases in the United States. At the end of July, children made up 8.8 percent of cases, up from 7.1 percent at the end of June and 5.2 percent at the beginning of June.

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#aap, #children, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science

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Google updates Maps with more COVID info and finally launches its Assistant driving mode

Google today announced an update to Google Maps that includes a number of new COVID-related features, as well as the ability to see the live status of your takeout or delivery orders, as well as the launch of the long-expected new Assistant driving mode.

In addition, the company shared a few new stats around Google Maps today. The company says that it makes 50 million updates to Maps each day now, for example, though that includes user-generated content like user reviews, photos and ratings. The company also now features “popular times” information for 20 million places around the globe.

Image Credits: Google Maps

As far as COVID is concerned, there are two announcements here. First, Google is updating the COVID layer in Google Maps on Android and iOS with some new information, including the number of all-time detected cases in an area and links to COVID resources from local governments. Second, Google Maps can now tell you, in real time, how busy a given transit line is so you can avoid packed trains or busses, for example. That’s based on real-time feedback from Google Maps users and will feel familiar if you are aware of how Google Maps can already show you how busy a given store or restaurant currently is.

Image Credits: Google Maps

Semi-related — delivery services are booming during the pandemic, after all (even as they continue to struggle to make a profit) — Google Maps on mobile will now be able to show you the live delivery status of your takeout and delivery orders in the U.S., Canada, Germany, Australia, Brazil and India. To do so, you have to book your order from Google Maps on Android or iOS.

For Google Maps users who don’t have an Android Auto-compatible car, the new Google Assistant driving mode in Maps has long been something to look forward to. The company first talked about this set of new features at its I/O developers conference in May 2019, but as is so often the case, features announced at I/O take a while to get to market. Originally, this was supposed to launch last summer.

Image Credits: Google Maps

The idea here is to allow drivers to get alerts about incoming calls, have the Assistant read out text messages and control your music right inside of Google Maps. Using the Assistant ideally reduces driver distractions. For now, this new mode is only coming to Android users in the U.S., though, and the number of features it supports remains limited. Google promises to support more features over time, but it’s not clear which features it plans to add to this mode.

#android, #apps, #assistant, #australia, #brazil, #canada, #computing, #covid-19, #driver, #germany, #google, #google-maps, #india, #operating-systems, #software, #tc, #united-states

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It’s really hard to determine which policies control COVID efficiently

Image of a restaurant with a large sign saying

Enlarge / In response to a surge in cases, Germany ordered restaurants to switch to delivery/takeout only. (credit: Picture Alliance/Getty Images)

Nobody wants to go back under heavy social restrictions. But the surging case numbers are causing many countries to put in place targeted lockdowns and other limits to try to get the pandemic back under control—a move that has sparked a backlash in a lot of places. So, it seems like it’s worth asking what the optimal combination of restrictions might be. How do you get the most pandemic control for the least restrictive social environment?

That’s precisely what an international team of researchers attempted to find out, as described in a paper published today. And, while the researchers come up with some potential answers, their paper ends up with an additional message: this is a really hard question to answer. So, to an extent, many countries are going to have to act with imperfect information and hope for the best.

How do you answer that?

In an ideal world, we’d have some sense of the impact of each possible social restriction: closing restaurants, starting contact tracing, shutting schools, and so on. Given that information, we could look at the rate of infections and its trajectory, then figure out the smallest possible set of restriction that could cause the infection rate to drop. But the real world is very far from this idealized situation at the moment, which is what motivated the researchers to try to provide a bit more certainty regarding the effectiveness of different restrictions.

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#covid-19, #pandemic, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science

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More good COVID-19 vaccine news—but it won’t save us

A serious man in a suit speaks in front of a blurry World Health Organization logo.

Enlarge / Geneva: WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced on March 11, 2020, that the new coronavirus outbreak can now be characterized as a pandemic. (credit: Getty | FABRICE COFFRINI)

There’s more good news on the COVID-19 vaccine front today: biotechnology company Moderna reported in a press release this morning that its mRNA vaccine appeared 94.5 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 in an interim analysis of a large, Phase III trial. The news comes exactly one week after similar results came out via press release for another mRNA vaccine developed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech.

But while health experts are “cautiously optimistic” for this and many other vaccines in the coming months, they warn that such a timeline will not be fast enough to spare lives and health care systems from the current spike in disease.

“Right now, we are extremely concerned by the surge in cases we’re seeing in some countries,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, said in a press conference Monday. “Particularly in Europe and the Americas, health workers and health systems are being pushed to the breaking point.”

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#biontech, #clinical-trial, #covid-19, #moderna, #pfizer, #phase-iii, #sars-cov-2, #science, #vaccine

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Trump adviser tells Michigan to “rise up” against COVID restrictions

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer about to speak at an event in Southfield, Michigan, on October 16, 2020.

Enlarge / Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer about to speak at an event in Southfield, Michigan, on October 16, 2020. (credit: Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images)

One of the Trump administration’s top coronavirus advisers called for Michigan residents to “rise up” against their state government to resist temporary coronavirus mitigation measures—barely one month after several men were arrested for conspiring to kidnap and assassinate the state’s governor.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration on Sunday issued a new emergency order putting a “pause” on several nonessential businesses and activities for the next three weeks. The order closes casinos and movie theaters, halts in-person dining in bars and restaurants, and requires colleges and high schools to return to all-virtual education, among other limitations. Childcare and schools up through eighth grade can remain open, as can gyms and pools, retail locations, and personal care services such as hair salons. Gatherings of up to 25 people are also permitted outdoors.

“Right now, there are thousands of cases a day, and hundreds of deaths a week in Michigan, and the number is growing,” Whitmer said when announcing the order. “If we don’t act now, thousands more will die, and our hospitals will continue to be overwhelmed. We can get through this together by listening to health experts once again and taking action right now to slow the spread of this deadly virus.”

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#coronavirus, #covid-19, #gretchen-whitmer, #policy, #scott-atlas, #trump-administration

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Will edtech empower or erase the need for higher education?

The coronavirus has erased a large chunk of college’s value proposition: the on-campus experience.

Campuses are closed, sports have been paused and, understandably, students don’t want to pay the same tuition for a fraction of the services. As a result, enrollment is down across the country and university business models are under unrelenting pressure.

The entire athletics program at East Carolina University has been furloughed with pay cuts. Ohio Wesleyan University eliminated 18 majors and consolidated a number of programs to save $4 million a year. And Pennsylvania’s Kutztown University lost 1,000 students to online school within weeks of reopening its campus, sacrificing $3.5 million in room and board fees.

And that’s just in the last few weeks.

As universities struggle, edtech is being positioned as a solution for their largest problem: remote teaching. Coursera, a massive open online course (MOOC), created a campus product to help schools quickly offer digital coursework. Podium Education raised millions last month to offer universities for-credit tech programs. Eruditus brought on more than $100 million in the last few months to create programming for elite universities. In some ways, the growth is the story of edtech’s ongoing surge amid the coronavirus pandemic: Remote schooling has forced institutions to piece together third-party solutions to keep operations afloat.

However, while some startups are helping universities offer virtual programming overnight, professors on the ground are warning their institutions to think long-term about what kind of technologies are net positive to adopt.

It’s a stress test that could lead to a reckoning among edtech startups.

‘We’re talking about the next evolution of textbooks’

As the last eight months have taught us, Zoom-based school is a lackluster alternative to the in-person experience. College campuses, thus, are tasked with finding a more creative way to offer engaging virtual content to students who are stuck in their dorm rooms.

Coursera launched Coursera for Campus to help colleges bring on online courses (credit optional) with built-in exams; more than 3,700 schools across the world are using the software.

“Professors would really want super-high-quality branded content that has assessments built into it if they’re going to deliver that learning for credit,” CEO Jeff Maggioncalda said. “That’s not the kind of learning you can get on YouTube.”

For now, though, Maggioncalda says he doesn’t think the death of a physical college campus experience is the future. He’s betting that the product can help colleges save money on faculty costs and reinvest that same money into the campus.

“There will be schools that will continue to offer residential experience, and I think what they’re gonna find is, if your real value proposition is that residential experience, then lead into that heavily,” he said. “But make sure that you’ve got really good content and credentials that are available so that your students don’t have to sacrifice.”

Georgia Tech professor David Joyner says that MOOCs like Coursera “are good for outreach and access, but are not good for accreditation.” Instead, he thinks edtech needs to be built first and foremost for universities to be most effective.

Podium Education, for example, builds courses in partnership with universities to offer for-credit courses. The newly launched startup raised $12 million in October and works with more than 20 colleges. Eruditus, an edtech startup that raised over $100 million in September, creates courses in collaboration with more than 30 elite universities, including MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, IIT and more.

Coursera, Podium and Eruditus are all signaling a future where universities could be getting a plug-and-play model of asynchronously taught curriculum.

#coronavirus, #coursera, #covid-19, #education, #education-technology, #fundings-exits, #georgia-tech, #remote-learning, #tc

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Moderna reports its COVID-19 vaccine is 94.5% effective in first data from Phase 3 trial

Following fast on the heels of Pfizer’s announcement of its COVID-19 vaccine efficacy, Moderna is also sharing positive results from its Phase 3 trial on Monday. The biotech company says that its COVID-19 vaccine candidate has shown efficacy of 94.5% in its first interim data analysis, which covers 95 confirmed COVID cases among its study participants, of which 90 were given the placebo, and only 5 received Moderna’s mRNA-based vaccine. Further, of 11 severe cases of COVID-19, none were found among those who received the actual vaccine candidate.

This is another very promising sign for the potential of having effective vaccines available to the public in some kind of significant volume at some point next year. As mentioned, it’s worth pointing out that this is just a first interim report, but it is data that comes from the safety board overseeing the trial appointed by the National Institutes of Health, which is an independent body not affiliated with Moderna, so it’s a reliable result that provides hope for continued and final analysis.

Moderna says that it will be submitting for an Emergency Use Authorization of its vaccine candidate based on the results within the coming weeks, looking to get approval from the FDA to use it in emergency circumstances ahead of a full and final approval. That EUA, should it be granted, will be based on data from 151 confirmed cases among the Phase 3 participant group (which included 30,000 participants in total), and data from follow-ups extending on average over two months after case confirmation.

All final data will also be submitted to the scientific community for independent peer review, which is a standard part of the ultimate vaccine trial and approval process.

Both these and Pfizer’s vaccine candidate, which it developed in partnership with BioNTech, are mRNA-based vaccines. These are relatively new in terms of human use, and differ from traditional vaccines in that they use messenger RNA to instruct a recipient’s cells to generate effective antibodies, without actually exposing them to any virus, whereas more traditional vaccines in general use typically use either small, safe doses of active or inactive virus in order to trigger a patient’s immune system to generate their own antibodies.

#biontech, #biotech, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #fda, #health, #medical-research, #medicine, #messenger, #moderna, #pfizer, #tc, #vaccination, #vaccine, #vaccines

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We’ll need more than one vaccine to beat the pandemic

Close-up photograph of a gloved hand holding a tiny bottle of clear liquid.

Enlarge / A medical worker holds a bottle of a candidate COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University that is being tested in a trial in Soweto, South Africa. (credit: Getty | Gallo Images)

On Monday, a press release from the transnational pharmaceutical company Pfizer dropped a rare spark of hope into the ongoing misery of the Covid-19 pandemic. Yes, new infections have hit an all-time high in the United States, and, yes, cities and states around the world are walking back their reopenings. But Pfizer says it has results from a massive clinical trial showing that its vaccine against the disease works, and works well. The release touted “a vaccine efficacy rate above 90 percent,” and it announced the company’s intention to seek from the US Food and Drug Administration an authorization to start giving people shots. The company’s ready to make 50 million doses this year and 1.3 billion doses in 2021.

That’s an ember of hope, but it’s sitting under a bucket of cold water, ready to pour. The Pfizer vaccine is finicky—hard to make, transport, and deliver. Because of desperate need, it’s in short supply even before it becomes available—1.3 billion doses is several billion short of what the world needs. The press release wasn’t peer-reviewed science, and it lacked critical details about how the vaccine works, and on whom. Even the simple fact of this vaccine’s existence, some analysts have argued, might jeopardize the testing and success of potentially better vaccines down the line, a case of the imperfect being the enemy of the good.

Before the ember dies out completely, here’s a theory: No. The Pfizer vaccine’s imperfections make it a perfect prime mover, because if it works as well as the company says, it’ll help people now and require research into more, better, different vaccines for later. All the things nobody knows about the Pfizer vaccine mean that the door is wide open. “Whether its effects are durable, whether it’s effective in the elderly, whether it has safety issues, the cold chain issues, the ability to have access,” says Wayne Koff, president and CEO of the nonprofit Human Vaccines Project, “all that points to the need for a number of vaccines.”

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#covid-19, #mrna, #pandemic, #science, #vaccination, #vaccines

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Vaccine czar calls on Trump to allow contact with Biden

President Donald Trump listens as Moncef Slaoui, the former head of GlaxoSmithKlines vaccines division, speaks about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / President Donald Trump listens as Moncef Slaoui, the former head of GlaxoSmithKlines vaccines division, speaks about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020 in Washington, DC. (credit: Drew Angerer | Getty Images)

The head of Donald Trump’s flagship vaccine project has called on the White House to allow Operation Warp Speed to make contact with Joe Biden’s transition team, warning that interrupting its work would put thousands of lives at risk.

Moncef Slaoui, a veteran pharmaceuticals executive who was appointed by Mr. Trump to accelerate the hunt for a vaccine, told the Financial Times he wanted to make sure his project continued operating without impediment during the transfer of power.

The comments from Mr. Slaoui, whose project is overseeing the development of five potential vaccines, come as the president faces pressure to concede defeat and allow a transition to the Biden administration to begin.

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#covid-19, #immunization, #policy, #project-warp-speed, #science, #vaccines

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How COVID-19 accelerated DoorDash’s business

DoorDash filed to go public today, publishing numbers that showed rapid growth, enhanced profitability and an improving cash flow record which helped explain how the company had grown to a $16 billion valuation while private. The unicorn’s impending liquidity event will enrich a host of venture capital firms that bet on its eventual maturity.


Instead of posting this entry of The Exchange on Monday, we’ve put it out today for your Friday and weekend reading. Enjoy! — Alex and Walter


But notable in DoorDash’s impressive results is the impact of COVID-19, accelerating secular trends already in place, and boosting the unicorn’s growth. Before we get into pricing this IPO and guessing what the company might be worth, let’s strive to understand what portion of its 2020 business gains could stem from the pandemic — and might not persist into the future.

We’re not being pessimistic; we merely want to better understand the company. And DoorDash agrees with our general thrust, writing in its S-1 filing that “58% of all adults and 70% of millennials say that they are more likely to have restaurant food delivered than they were two years ago,” adding that it believes “the COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated these trends.”

Even more, elsewhere in its filings DoorDash states plainly that COVD-19 led it to experience “a significant increase in revenue, Total Orders, and Marketplace [gross order volume] due to increased consumer demand for delivery, more merchants using our platform to facilitate both delivery and take-out, and improved efficiency of our local logistics platform.” The company then went on to warn investors that the “circumstances that have accelerated the growth of our business stemming from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic may not continue in the future, and we expect the growth rates in revenue, Total Orders, and Marketplace [gross order volume] to decline in future periods.”

We’re not idly speculating.

Let’s observe how DoorDash’s growth accelerated from 2019 through 2020 and then peek at how the company’s economics improved during the same period, giving the company a shot at adjusted profitability for the full year, a nearly unheard of result in the on-demand market.

Growth

DoorDash generates revenue when a customer orders food via its service, splitting the total bill of food costs, taxes, fees and tips, distributing them to itself, the merchant creating the goods and the delivery person.

In an “illustrative” example that DoorDash notes its 2019 “approximate average per-order information,” the split works out as follows:

  • Bill: $32.90
  • Merchant: $20.10, or 61%
  • DoorDash: $4.90, or 15%
  • Delivery person: $7.90, or 24%

Given that the company is giving us old data and DoorDash’s performance has been stellar this year in terms of generating more gross profit, I wonder what has happened amidst 2020’s upheaval. But, the old numbers do for what we need, which is to understand the link between gross order volume (GOV) and DoorDash revenue. When the former goes up, the latter goes up.

So, as orders rise:

#covid-19, #doordash, #ec-1, #exit, #food, #fundings-exits, #initial-public-offering, #online-food-ordering, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange

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Elon Musk says he has tested positive for COVID-19

Elon Musk

Enlarge (credit: VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Elon Musk has tested positive for the coronavirus, he announced on Twitter. He also tested negative.

“Was tested for covid four times today,” Musk wrote on Thursday evening. “Two tests came back negative, two came back positive.”

Musk believes that “something extremely bogus is going on.”

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#covid-19, #elon-musk, #policy

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Expansive White House COVID outbreak sidelines 10% of Secret Service

A member of the United States Secret Service wearing a face mask stands guard as President Donald J. Trump speaks to supporters from the Blue Room balcony during an event at the White House on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / A member of the United States Secret Service wearing a face mask stands guard as President Donald J. Trump speaks to supporters from the Blue Room balcony during an event at the White House on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | The Washington Post)

The latest coronavirus outbreak at the White House continues to expand and has now sidelined roughly 10 percent of the Secret Service’s core security team, according to a report by The Washington Post.

More than 130 Secret Service officers who guard the White House and the president are now infected or in quarantine after close contact with infected co-workers. A former senior Secret Service supervisor told the Post that missing over 130 of the agency’s 1,300 officers in the Uniformed Division “does not bode well for White House security.”

People familiar with the matter have linked the spread of the coronavirus among Secret Service agents in part to the president’s whirlwind travel and crowded campaign rallies in the run-up to the election. The agency is also looking into possible exposures at the White House.

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#covid-19, #infectious-disease, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #secret-service, #trump, #white-house

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Microsoft says hackers backed by Russia and North Korea targeted COVID-19 vaccine makers

Microsoft has revealed that hackers backed by Russia and North Korea have targeted pharmaceutical companies involved in the COVID-19 vaccine development efforts.

The technology giant said Friday that the attacks targeted seven companies in the U.S., Canada, France, India, and South Korea. But while it blocked the “majority” of the attacks, Microsoft acknowledged that some were successful.

Microsoft said it had notified the affected companies, but declined to name them.

“We think these attacks are unconscionable and should be condemned by all civilized society,” said Tom Burt, Microsoft’s customer security and trust chief, in a blog post.

The technology giant blamed the attacks on three distinct hacker groups. The Russian group, which Microsoft calls Strontium but is better known as APT28 or Fancy Bear, used password spraying attacks to target their victims, which often involves recycled or reused passwords. Fancy Bear may be best known for its disinformation and hacking operations in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, but the group has also been blamed for a string of other high-profile attacks against media outlets and businesses.

The other two groups are backed by the North Korean regime, one of which Microsoft calls Zinc but is better known as the Lazarus Group, which used targeted spearphishing emails disguised as recruiters in an effort to steal passwords from their victims. Lazarus was blamed for the Sony hack in 2016 and the WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017, as well as other malware-driven attacks.

But little is known about the other North Korea-backed hacker group, which Microsoft calls Cerium. Microsoft said the group also used targeted spearphishing emails masquerading as representatives from the World Health Organization, charged with coordinating the effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Microsoft spokesperson acknowledged it was the first time the company had referenced Cerium, but the company did not offer more.

This is the latest effort by hackers trying to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic for their own goals. Earlier this year, the FBI and Homeland Security warned that hackers would try to steal coronavirus vaccine research.

Today’s news coincides with the Paris Peace Forum, where Microsoft president Brad Smith will urge governments to do more to combat cyberattacks against the healthcare sector, particularly during the pandemic.

“Microsoft is calling on the world’s leaders to affirm that international law protects health care facilities and to take action to enforce the law,” Burt said. “We believe the law should be enforced not just when attacks originate from government agencies but also when they originate from criminal groups that governments enable to operate — or even facilitate — within their borders.”

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #government, #hacking, #health, #microsoft, #nation-state, #national-security, #security

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A look at the psychological burdens of COVID lockdowns

Two men cary a bench.

Enlarge / Municipality employees remove the famous blue chairs on the “Promenade des anglais” in Nice, southern France, in order to limit opportunities for people to gather. (credit: VALERY HACHE / Getty Images)

With the dramatic rise in infections in the United States, there’s increasing discussion of whether states need to go back to severe social restrictions or even lockdowns, in which only essential workers are allowed to leave their homes. But many people aren’t happy about the idea of re-entering lockdowns because lockdowns exact both an economic and an emotional cost.

While we’re likely to get lots of hard data on economic costs eventually, some researchers in New Zealand decided to look at the emotional toll. They performed a detailed survey at the height of lockdown and found that, as expected, the restrictions had an impact on people trapped in their houses for weeks. But the impact was more pronounced on the young and those who had experienced psychological distress previously.

Lockdown NZ

The public health officials who advocate for lockdowns in response to soaring infection rates recognize that lockdowns exact an emotional toll on people who have to stay in their homes. The trade-off for this toll is the avoidance of death, severe illness, overloading of healthcare systems, etc. And the lockdowns are meant to be temporary; once infection rates drop sufficiently, then less draconian control measures (like social distancing, limiting gatherings, and mask use) can keep the infection rates low.

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#covid-19, #epidemiology, #lockdowns, #mental-health, #pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #science

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Amazon faces lawsuit alleging failure to provide PPE to workers during pandemic

Christian Smalls, a former Amazon warehouse employee, filed a lawsuit against the company today alleging Amazon failed to provide personal protective equipment to Black and Latinx workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The class action suit alleges Amazon failed to properly protect its warehouse workers and violated elements of New York City’s human rights law, as well as federal and state laws.

“I was a loyal worker and gave my all to Amazon until I was unceremoniously terminated and tossed aside like yesterday’s trash because I insisted that Amazon protect its dedicated workers from COVID-19,” Smalls said in a statement. “I just wanted Amazon to provide basic protective gear to the workers and sanitize the workplace.”

Amazon did not specifically comment on the lawsuit but said it stands in solidarity with Black employees, customers and its partners.

“Amazon’s mission is to be the earth’s most customer-centric company, and this mission is central to our work in diversity and inclusion,” Amazon spokesperson Lisa Levandowski told TechCrunch. “Diverse teams help us think bigger, and differently, about the products and services that we build for our customers and the day-to-day nature of our workplace – this is reinforced within our 14 Leadership Principles, which remind team members to seek diverse perspectives, learn and be curious, and constantly earn others’ trust.”

The lawsuit suit has support from Rev. Jesse Jackson, who said he stands in solidarity with Smalls and other Amazon warehouse workers.

“COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown communities on so many levels, from warehouses to jailhouses,” Rev. Jackson said in a statement. “It’s an invisible enemy that is killing our communities. Chris ‘case is a classic example of how corporate greed and insensitivity can literally expose communities to untold and unnecessary risks.”

Smalls was fired from Amazon in March after organizing a walkout at one of the company’s fulfillment centers in Staten Island. As a result, New York’s attorney general is investigating if Amazon violated federal worker safety laws and New York state’s whistleblower protections laws by firing Smalls.

Smalls’ termination helped galvanize other warehouse workers who later organized formed an international organization to demand change inside Amazon’s warehouses. Organizers pointed to worker retaliation as one of the driving factors for the formation of Amazon Workers International. Meanwhile, Amazon executives reportedly discussed discrediting Smalls and making him the face of the organizing movement.

An Amazon spokesperson previously told TechCrunch the company did not fire Smalls for organizing a protest. Instead, Amazon said it fired him for “putting the health and safety of others at risk and violations of his terms of employment.”

“Mr. Smalls received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines,” the spokesperson said. “He was also found to have had close contact with a diagnosed associate with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and was asked to remain home with pay for 14-days, which is a measure we’re taking at sites around the world. Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite further putting the teams at risk.”

#amazon, #covid-19, #diversity, #labor

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Udemy and altMBA co-founders return to edtech with a new, stealthy business

In 2009, Udemy co-founder Gagan Biyani tried to convince people to learn online through live classes. But what he discovered instead was that everyone wanted an online repository of content that allowed them to learn at their own pace, whenever and wherever. So, he canned his idea and Udemy created what is now called a massive open online course provider, or MOOC.

In the years since, Biyani was let go from Udemy, started a 200-person food company, shut that down, took a sabbatical, and is now returning to the seedling he left behind in 2009: live, online courses.

Today, Biyani tells TechCrunch that he is teaming up with Wes Kao, the co-founder of AltMBA, an online cohort-based leadership program, to start an edtech company that combines both of their experiences into one focus: live, cohort-based learning. The duo grew up as friends in the same hometown, but only recently reconnected over education once Biyani returned from sabbatical. Kao’s experience building an online course from scratch, with an over 95% completion rate, was validation that the format worked. And soon enough, they incorporated a company together.

The company will focus on cohort-based learning, mixing live and asynchronous components. As it’s still in early stealth, the founders said it doesn’t have a name yet. Instead of a company site, they have a Notion landing page.

Despite those missing details, what Biyani did say is that the startup’s main focus is creating a community where anyone can start their own course. Kao says that creating a course requires over a dozen people behind the scenes — teacher assistants, community moderators and the process is essentially “an entire production.” With the startup, she wants to democratize that operation.

“I see it as a way to help more traders and experts be able to share their knowledge,” she said. “And take away the question marks on how to build community.”

The company from the start will focus on the back-end production of helping teachers, but eventually create a marketplace to allow students to see a directory of classes.

“It should be as easy as building a Substack,” Biyani said, referring to the popular newsletter service. Similar to Substack, the company will only make money if the instructor, or creator, does. It takes a chunk of each student’s subscription cost as revenue.

The company is entering a crowded space. Yesterday, CampusWire announced that it has pivoted to start offering build-your-own courses to experienced professors. MasterClass allows celebrities to teach classes, Teachable allows anyone to create their own course, and the list continues.

But Biyani views their biggest competitor as teachers who have already built courses without a third-party service. The company is planning to bring those creators onto their platform by offering ways to manage their customer base.

Ultimately, the market will only be won over by the startup that has the best strategy, product, and teacher pool. Based on their stealthy vision, the duo has raised $4.3 million in a round led by First Round Capital. Other investors include Naval Ravikant, Sahil Lavingia, Li Jin, Arlan Hamilton and co-founders from Lambda School, Outschool, Superhuman, and Udemy.

It’s a stacked term-sheet for a company in the early stages, suggesting that that edtech’s boom is still very much upon us. Lavingia says that he committed right away even though he didn’t use the product.

“Gagan’s name was enough for me,” he said. “I think I followed him on Twitter a year or two ago and i’d back anything he does just based on what he shares.”

Backstage Capital’s Hamilton said that Kao has been within the Backstage mentor network for a while, and added that “there’s a perfect storm for Wes and Gagan to execute within.”

#covid-19, #edtech, #education, #gagan-biyani, #mobile, #remote-learning, #tc, #teachers, #udemy

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US healthcare on brink as COVID-19 hospitalizations hit all-time high

Medical workers in protective gear apply a breathing apparatus to a recline patient.

Enlarge / Medical staff members treat a patient suffering from coronavirus in the COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU) at the United Memorial Medical Center (UMMC) on November 10, 2020, in Houston, Texas. (credit: Getty | Go Nakamura)

More people in the United States are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 than ever before in the pandemic, and hospitals in numerous states are on the brink of being overwhelmed.

Around 62,000 people in the US are now in the hospital with the pandemic coronavirus, topping all previous peaks in hospitalizations, which were around 60,000, according to the COVID Tracking Project. The surge is intense and diffuse. Hospitalizations are up 40 percent over the last two weeks alone, and they’re rising in every region of the country.

Seventeen states are now at record-breaking numbers of hospitalizations, with states in the Midwest hit the hardest. In North Dakota, hospitals are at 100 percent capacity. On Monday, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced that the state has amended a health order to now allow nurses who are infected with the coronavirus to keep working in hospitals as long as they show no symptoms. The move is aimed at alleviating strain on hospital staff who are being overwhelmed by the influx of patients. The governor added that the state is also looking to hire emergency medical technicians and paramedics to run COVID-19 testing operations.

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#covid-19, #healthcare, #hospitalization, #infectious-disease, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science

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As edtech crowds up, Campuswire bets big on real-time learning

Campuswire was in a fortuitous spot when colleges and universities across the world shut down on short notice because of the threat of coronavirus. Founded by Tade Oyerinde in 2018, Campuswire is a virtual solution for any teacher who wants to digitize their internal classroom communications, from Q&A time to the lecture itself.

The strategy, for the most part, has worked. Campuswire is now used at more than 300 universities among 200,000 students, Oyerinde tells me.

While Campuswire’s pitch was set to boom overnight, the founder instead saw a bigger challenge approaching: more competition. As professors moved online, lectures moved to Zoom or tools built atop of Zoom. Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts filled in the gap for classrooms that couldn’t afford fancy licenses. Campuswire’s key monetization strategy, which was selling pro licenses for its online class software, felt threatened by alternatives.

So, after months of iterating, Campuswire has adapted its monetization strategy and today announced that it is launching live courses taught by professors. Instead of solely working with professors to streamline internal class communications, Campuswire will now help teachers produce classes that students can then take for a fee. The tuition revenue will be split between the teacher and Campuswire.

Campuswire courses kick off with an angel investing class taught by Charles Hudson, the founder and general partner of Precursor Ventures. Hudson lectures at Stanford occasionally, and working with Campuswire allows him to teach a broader set of students.

Meanwhile, Campuswire software will be free to use starting in January 2021.

The move marks Campuswire’s further dive into synchronous learning. Campuswire’s model is built on how existing classrooms work in universities and colleges. Classes on Campuswire are capped at 500 to promote conversation, and large lectures are supplemented with teacher assistant (TA) classes to hammer home confusing concepts.

Meanwhile, it’s clear amid the pandemic that asynchronous learning has its perks (students can learn on their own schedule, while educators are able to work more flexible hours). Still, Oyerinde thinks a pre-recorded format is not effective for pedagogy purposes.

“This is kind of the hill we’re going to die on,” he said. “Real, lasting learning has to be synchronous for the majority of people.”

In other words, while there’s a small group of gifted-and-talented students who can watch a one-hour lecture and absorb every factoid and nuance, the majority of students need engagement, interaction and motivation to understand a topic, he argues. It’s the reason why MOOCs, or massive open online course providers, only have a 2-3% completion rate on their courses, he argues.

At its core, Campuswire has evolved from a platform trying to compete with Zoom to a platform that is trying to compete with these MOOCS through engaging content taught by experienced professors. Its main differentiation from MOOCs is that it’s live and has teacher assistants.

There are a number of startups that are trying to create engaging, celebrity professor-taught classes through hybrid plays. MasterClass, which just raised $100 million a few months ago, sells entertainment and education in one go, offering cooking classes from Gordon Ramsay and tennis lessons from Serena Williams. While you can’t interact with Ramsay or Williams, you can chat with fellow classmates.

BookClub connects readers to the authors they are reading, giving bookworms an opportunity to ask about cliffhangers and character development. The upstart is still in its early stages, but founder David Blake says that readers could talk directly to authors down the road. There’s also Teachable, which got acquired by Hotmart earlier this year. Teachable helps any expert who wants to create a business around their expertise do so with a virtual course. Arlan Hamilton, a seed-stage investor, has a course on the platform.

Today’s pivot signals the founder’s mindset that, in order to grow to the billion-dollar business mark in edtech, you need to sell more than software that Google and Microsoft will always give away for free.

“Online learning can be 100 times bigger than it is today,” Oyerinde said. “Once you actually support synchronicity, you actually support people getting to actually interact with UCLA/Princeton/Cornell professors, not just watching them on pre-recorded videos.”

#campuswire, #covid-19, #distance-learning, #education, #education-tech, #learning, #online-learning, #remote-learning, #startups, #tc

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