On Wednesday, June 3rd, a team led by the COVID Tech Task Force is putting on the first of several free public conferences on the topic of Contact Tracing and Technology. Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, NYU’s Alliance for Public Interest Technology, TechCrunch, Betaworks Studios, and Hangar are also part of organizing the effort.
I’ve gone extremely deep down the contact tracing and exposure notification rabbit hole. In February, I had never heard the phrase contact tracing. Today, I not only understand it well, I have a lot of perspective on the current state of contact tracing technology, along with emerging “new tech solutions” to contact tracing, and the incredible challenge of operationalizing these new technologies.
More importantly (and thankfully), several tech leaders motivated by Harper Reed recognized that the tech community that began talking about “contact tracing” in April was creating massive confusion given the long history of contact tracing. The tech folks (me included) tried to separate it from classical contact tracing by calling it “digital contact tracing.” But, this wasn’t really contact tracing at all and needed a different name. Harper labeled it Exposure Alerting which has finally found its true name as “Exposure Notification.”
Contact Tracing and Exposure Notification are different but related. And the way contact tracing is currently implemented is on a spectrum from legacy software systems to paper/whiteboard tracking. Not surprisingly, a number of tech companies and consulting firms have “contact tracing products” coming out. Some are excellent. Many either inadequate, not contact tracing, or mostly vaporware.
Two weeks ago, on the bi-monthly call that Fred Wilson and I do with several of the leaders of the Covid-19 Task Force, we suggested that they do a series of public events – as inclusive as they could – to help convene anyone who is interested around the issues of contact tracing, exposure alerting, health care, public policy, and technology. Fred wrote about this yesterday. We are both delighted that this has come together so quickly as the public forum on this is badly needed.
This event has several key speakers along with a bunch of demos of emerging products. It’ll be three hours long and live streamed on the web.
RSVP to attend. And, if you are working on a contact tracing or exposure notification application and want to be part of the demo mix, send me an email and I’ll get you connected.
Energize Colorado, working with Colorado’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT), has just released business templates that offer best practices, direction, and information on how businesses can restart operations safely and effectively.
These templates are based on OEDIT’s recommendations along with input from Kroger who has been a leader in evolving better practices as an essential business.
- Part One: Let’s Keep COVID-19 Out of Your Workplace: Best practices in screening your workers and customers and how they need to be balanced with privacy and HIPAA concerns.
- Part Two: Let’s Not Pass it Along: Learn the underlying principles of social distancing to support creation of specific guidelines for your business and industry.
- Part Three: Let’s Plan for When it Does Happen: COVID-19 will come to virtually every business. Learn how to limit the impact and spread through your workforce.
- Part Four: Let’s Care for Our People: Special programs to check in frequently with workers and tools to respond to what you learn.
As businesses start opening up in Colorado, we are entering a very tricky phase of the Covid crisis. I appreciate the work that the 200+ volunteers at Energize Colorado are doing to help the companies with less than 500 employees navigate things.
Amy just walked in to our shared office (the “Library”) and said something about it being Tuesday.
It’s gloomy in Colorado today. For the past few years, the month of May has been more like Seattle weather than Colorado weather, so while spring is transitioning into summer, heavy clouds hang over us.
I seem to have two types of days right now.
Type 1 is what happens between Monday morning and Friday afternoon. Zoom call after Zoom call. Lots of exogenous stress and anxiety. By the end of each of these days, it’s hard to shrug it off as I’m absorbing so much from other people as I try to help them navigate through whatever they are working on or struggling with. There are momentary bright spots, smiles, and statements of appreciation, but they are fleeting as the 1 Minute To Next Call message appears at the top of the screen. At the end of the day, I try to run, but only feel like it a few days a week. Amy and I finish the day staring at the TV for an hour or two and then go to sleep.
Type 2 is the weekend. I stop doing meetings and email Friday night. I use Saturday to rest, recover, read, nap, and hang out with Amy. Sunday is similar, but I catch up on email, and read a bunch more.
I love to read but the only days I seem to have the energy to read are Type 2 days.
I’m going to finish out this week this way and then take a week off the grid and try to reset. As I expect we are in for a very long haul of stress and misery around the Covid crisis, it’s clear to me that Type 1 / Type 2 is not going to be a sustainable rhythm for me.
While I don’t know where I’ll land, I do know that the mental health crisis I talked about in my post The Three Crises is real. I see it and hear about it everywhere. I feel it. And I know how lucky and privileged I am, so I can only imagine how intense, pervasive, and challenging it is for others.
The mission of the $1K Project is to help families impacted by the pandemic by connecting them directly with sponsors who are willing to gift them $1k a month for three months. This is intended as a bridge until government funding shows up, people can get back to work, or figure out another source of funding.
I committed to fund five families on the spot for three months. I just fulfilled my second set of committments to these families.
- Jasmine Family (Oregon)
- Kristen Family (Pennslyvania)
- Colleen’s Family (Not Disclosed)
- Cristina Family (New Jersey)
- Theresa’s Family (Texas)
Alex told me that part of his motivation is that with all the different ways there are to gift money, families everywhere are hurting and are unable to provide food, basic necessities, rent, and utilities. Unless you know someone, it’s very hard to directly support another family you don’t know.
The magic of the $1k Project is using trusted connections to trace back to people known to the founders and other people connected to the $1k Project. Families get referred to us through friends, families, and through their former employers who are pained by having to let the employees go.
Think of it for a chain letter in CovidWorld.
If you are an employer you can nominate someone you laid off due to Covid. Alternatively, you can nominate a friend, a family member, a business owner, or someone else you know who lost their job to Covid.
In the last 30 days, over $500,000 has been given directly to families in need. Each has a story. Each has a need.
Alex and team – awesome job.
For the readers out there, if you are inspired to make a difference directly in a family’s life and you can afford $1k / month for three months, give the $1k Project a shot and sign up to be a sponsor.
On May 14th at 5:30pm, a group of us are going to have a virtual birthday party for Colorado Governor Jared Polis. I’m co-chairing the party with my wife Amy Batchelor, my partner Seth Levine, his wife Greeley Sachs, and our friends Mo and Jennifer Siegel. Congressman Joe Neguse is joining as a special birthday guest as his birthday is the next day.
Jared always does a fundraiser on his birthday. This year, it’s for the Colorado COVID Relief Fund.
I’m on the executive committee for the fund and Amy is on the grants committee. Our gift was one of the first to the fund (I was part of the launch discussion and committed on the first committee call along with Kent Thiry and Denise O’Leary.) So far we have raised $16.5 million and have given grants of $8.4 million to those in Colorado in the most need. Our goal is to raise at least $20 million and deploy all of the money by the end of June. Over 8,000 individual donors have contributed along with organizations listed at the end of this post.
It’s a tough time for everyone, but I’m especially proud to be a Coloradan right now as we work together to help each other.
Some of the organizations that have contributed so far: Anchor Point, AT&T, Baird Foundation, Bank of America, Bender West Foundation, Boettcher Foundation, Bohemian Foundation, BPx Energy, Buell Foundation, Caring for Colorado Foundation, Chambers Fund, Charles Schwab Foundation, Christy Sports, Cigna, Colorado Garden Show INC, Colorado Rockies Baseball Club Foundation, Comcast NBCUniversal, Community First Foundation, Community Foundation Boulder County, Cranaleith Foundation Inc, Daniels Fund, David Altman Foundation, Deloitte, Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation, Denver Broncos, El Pomar, Elana Amsterdam & Rob Katz, Empower Retirement, ENT Credit Union, First Bank, Gates Family Foundation, Gill Foundation, Good Chemistry Nurseries, Google, Greater Salina Community Foundation, Grogan Family Fund, HCA Healthcare, Hearst Foundation, Hemera Foundation, HomeAdvisor, John Elway, Ken and Rebecca Gart, Key Bank Foundation, Liberty Global, Liberty Media, Lockheed Martin, Madroño Foundation, MDC/ Richmond American Homes Foundation, Mile High United Way, Morgridge Family Foundation, Newmont, Norm & Sunny Brownstein and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Pat Broe, Patlaw Fund, Peyton and Ashley Manning, PhRMA, Pinnacol Assurance, PNC, R. Stanton Dodge, Rose Community Foundation, Santander Consumer USA Inc Foundation, Suncor, Target, Telluride Foundation, Terrapin Care Station, The Anschutz Foundation, The Colorado Health Foundation, The Colorado Trust, The DaVita Village, The Denver Foundation, The Moes, The Seedworks Fund, Thiry-O’Leary Foundation, Tom Marsico, TriState Generation & Transmission Association, Twilio, VF & The VF Foundation, Walmart, Wells Fargo Foundation, Western Union, Wynne Health Group, and Xcel Energy.
If you have a job, have been working from home, and haven’t been spending extra money on Starbucks (or local) coffee, lunch or dinner out, or other random things you spend money on during the day while at work, please consider making a donation to the Colorado COVID Relief Fund today. All contributions made today up to $250,000 will be matched by an anonymous donor.
GivingTuesday usually happens the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Amy and I have been involved in Boulder for many years, going back to the first year when the yellow Culture of Giving squeezy balls were part of the campaign.
This year it’s happening today. Globally.
The Covid crisis has created unprecedented stress and devastation on many people. The Governor’s Colorado COVID Relief Fund is raising and allocating funds based on prevention, impact, and recovery needs of community-based organizations in Colorado.
- Children from families living on low income who are impacted by school or childcare closures
- Communities of color
- Healthcare, hospitality, service industry and gig economy workers
- Immigrant and refugee communities
- Minimum or low-wage employees displaced by business closures
- Older adults living on low income
- People who are immuno-compromised or medically fragile
- People with limited English proficiency
- People with disabilities
- People without health insurance
- Victims of domestic violence or child abuse
- People living on low income
- People experiencing homelessness
- Tribal governments
- Workers without access to paid sick leave
To date, the fund has allocated $8.4 million to 371 organizations serving all 64 counties in Colorado.
We’ve all been working from home for the past 30 days (so, about 20 work days). Contemplate what your random out of pocket spending on food (coffee, snacks) is during the work day. $3? $5? $10? $20?
Consider contributing a day, a week (* 5), or a month (* 20) of whatever that number is to the Colorado COVID Relief Fund. Whatever number you contribute will be multiplied by 2 in the match.
Coloradans helping Coloradans. Because that’s what we do.
At Foundry Group, we’ve decided to voluntarily extend our Work from Home policy until at least the end of May 2020. Until then, our office is closed. We will re-evaluate this on May 25th and decide whether to let our Work from Home policy expire, or extend it further.
We encourage all Colorado-based software and professional services businesses to consider this policy. Given our State’s current “Safer at Home” policy, overall limitations on testing, uncertainty around the current state of the Covid crisis, and the existing stress on many healthcare-related systems, we believe that many businesses can do their part to ease the strain by continuing Work from Home policies.
We are fortunate that we can run our business in a completely remote and distributed fashion, with everyone working from home. While the Safer at Home policy allows offices to have up to 50% of their staff working at any one time, to be truly safe at work requires numerous processes, including regular testing and tracing of employees, extensive office cleaning, and controls around visitors. We are not prepared to do this at the level we believe we need to in order for our team to feel safe and think that, at a minimum, we need more time to prepare.
We also recognize that many businesses cannot operate remotely. While we immediately think of hospitals and frontline health care workers, many essential businesses have not been closed during the “Stay at Home” order. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to these people and recognize that one thing that we can continue to do in May is work from home to keep the burden on the system lower.
Numerous businesses have been extremely impacted by the Covid crisis, including some, such as restaurants and retail, that are going to open more slowly and on a limited basis. Their environments are different than a software or professional services firm, as their employees and customers physically interact continuously throughout the day. Many of them, especially restaurants, are already tuned in to health and safety issues in a way that traditional office environments are not, so putting additional safety measures in place, while burdensome, is more natural for them.
We have been studying many things that larger companies are doing. It’s apparent that the private sector will need to be very involved in creating a safe working environment for their employees. While the government can give us parameters and constraints we are going to have to have to carry them out on a daily basis. And, to do that well, will require real preparation.
A number of tech companies led the movement to work from home, including a group of us in Colorado. You don’t have to be in an office environment to develop software products, practice law, trade stocks, or make investments. If you have the flexibility to work from home, we encourage you to consider being the last to exit the Work from Home dynamic, just as we were the first to enter it.
I took a digital sabbath yesterday. I ended up doing three things.
- Read The End of October by Lawrence Wright
- Took a nap
- Watched three episodes of Breaking Bad
I feel so much better than I did at the end of the day Friday. After I finish this blog post, I’m going to participate in the Emerge Family Virtual 5k.
The End of October was intense. It’s the story of a modern day pandemic. It’s fiction, but deeply researched. I have no idea how much was modified to suit the actual reality, but given the time frame for publishing most books, my guess is “not that much.”
I was shocked by how close the ramp-up was to what has actually happened during the Covid crisis. The pandemic movies have similar ramp-ups, but other than Contagion have happy Hollywood endings. In contrast, many books do not. There is no happy ending in The End of October.
Wright did an amazing job of showing the collision of politics and science, economics and health, and top-down control vs. distributed collaboration. Some authors spend too much time “telling.” Wright just used his story to show, and show, and show.
We are still early on in the Covid-19 pandemic – probably 25% of the way through Wright’s book. The darkness in the last 75% is a fundamental warning for us in one way this can go. While I’m ultimately optimistic, I’m not at all comfortable with or confident in much of anything right now.
The End of October is a dose of heavy medicine for anyone who thinks “this is no big deal” or “this is all over” or “this is heading on a good path that can’t be derailed.” I’m not suggesting any of these things are true or false, but rather recommending the book as perspective on the bad path that might be in front of us.
It’s a beautiful day in Colorado. The animals are everywhere, enjoying spring. Amy and I are in our pajamas, experiencing a typical Sunday morning. But, we are aware that the overall context we are living in is very different than what we are used to.
Most people, unless you work either for government or an infectious disease “organization” (non-profit, hospital, health care system) probably had not heard the phrase “contact tracing” until a month or so ago.
I now hear and see the phrase “contact tracing” everywhere.
About a month ago, as I started working on Covid-related stuff, the phrase came up regularly on the private side as a partial solution to the problem of “opening things back up.” It was often phrased as “it will be hard to open anything up until we have enough testing and contact tracing.”
For about a week, I couldn’t figure out why many of the people I was interacting with seemed to dismiss my ideas and concerns about contact tracing. Then, in a conversation, someone in government explained what the government’s historical view of contact tracing was, which is a well-defined and regularly executed completely manual process.
A giant lightbulb went off in my brain as I realized two things were happening. A bunch of people who were hearing the phrase “contact tracing” figured “yup – we’ve got that under control” (meaning they already had a manual contact tracing effort in place or about to be launched). The rest were thinking “the tech people want to automate and digitize the manual contact tracing activity – that’ll never work and it’ll create huge security and data privacy issues.”
So, I, along with everyone I am working with, started calling it “Digital Contact Tracing.” That helped some, especially as we described its relationship to Manual Contact Tracing. But, there was still too much explanation of Manual Contact Tracing vs. Digital Contact Tracing. And, confused continued to abound.
The phrase “Digital Contact Tracing” started evolving. The ACLU wrote a great white paper titled Principles for Technology-Assisted-Contact-Tracing which generated a clever acronym (TACT). I also saw the phrase “Digital Contact Tracing and Alerting” being used.
Yesterday, Harper Reed put up a short post titled Digital Contact Tracing and Alerting vs Exposure Alerting that lays out the history of the concept and renames it “Exposure Alerting.”
Exposure Alerting is the correct phrase for Digital Contact Tracing. It is clearly additive to Manual Contact Tracing (or simply Contact Tracing as most of the non-technical world refers to it.)
So, from here on out, I think we should call this activity Exposure Alerting. I think we would have saved a lot of time and energy if we had come up with the right name from the beginning. But, since this is going to be with us for a very long time, let’s start now.