Mar 23, 2020 - Technology

Tech companies partner with public sector to take on coronavirus

Photo: Tim Boyle/Getty Images

The past couple of days have seen a wave of partnerships between government and private tech companies (or individuals) to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: The federal and state governments need private-sector help to navigate the crisis but can offer key resources and information that private actors otherwise couldn't access.

Driving the news:

  • Yext, a company that sells tools to businesses to help them manage their online profiles and field customer queries, helped the New Jersey government build a website in just a few days to serve as an online hub for coronavirus information.
  • IBM, along with other tech giants — including Google, Amazon and Microsoft — is working with the White House, a number of universities and several national labs to make supercomputing resources available to help explore potential treatments or cures for coronavirus.
  • A group of techies, many with experience in the Obama White House, are offering their skills to government agencies in need of their expertise. The volunteer effort, dubbed U.S. Digital Response, includes Code for America founder Jennifer Pahlka, former deputy U.S. CTO Ryan Panchadsaram (now at Kleiner Perkins), and Cori Zarek, another former deputy U.S. CTO, who is now at Georgetown University.

What they're saying:

  • Yext: "Our whole mission is to fight misinformation," Yext CEO Howard Lerman told Axios. "We're seeing tens of thousands of questions per hour come through," he said just hours after it went live, adding that the website was put together in just 24 hours and the company wants to do this for any government that needs it.
  • IBM: IBM Research director Dario Gil said in a blog post that its Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has already allowed researchers to "to screen 8,000 compounds" to identify those most likely to bind to a key protein of the virus and block its ability to infect cells. From that, Gil said, 77 promising small-molecule drug compounds were identified for real-world experimentation. "Now we must scale," Gil said.
  • U.S. Digital Response: Pahlka told Axios the group has more than 1,100 volunteers already, but needs more state, local and federal agencies to know of their services. The need, she notes, is huge as governments see not only surging demand for directly virus-related information, but also for services like unemployment assistance and food aid. "We know they are overwhelmed, and we have great people to help them," Pahlka said.

Go deeper

World coronavirus updates: Fewer deaths in Italy and Spain, U.K. toll jumps

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

Health officials in Italy and Spain are seeing a glimmer of hope, as both countries reported a decline in deaths from the novel coronavirus Sunday. But the death toll continues to surge in the United Kingdom, which now has the world's fourth highest number of fatalities from COVID-19.

The big picture: The virus has killed more than 69,000 people and infected 1.25 million others globally as of early Monday, per Johns Hopkins data. Spain has reported the most cases outside the U.S. (more than 131,000) and Italy the most deaths (over 15,000). About half the planet's population is now on lockdown.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Health

U.S. coronavirus updates: Death toll passes 9,600

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Recorded deaths from the novel coronavirus surpassed 9,600 in the U.S. Sunday night, per Johns Hopkins data. The death toll in the U.S. has risen over 1,000 every day since April 1.

Why it matters: U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on Sunday this upcoming week will be "the hardest and saddest week of most Americans' lives" — calling it our "our Pearl Harbor, our 9/11 moment."

Go deeperArrowUpdated 4 hours ago - Health

Cuomo says New York is "literally going day-to-day with our supplies"

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press conference on Sunday that New York is struggling to maintain medical supplies while combatting the novel coronavirus — operating "literally" on a "day-to-day" basis.

Why it matters: New York City has become an epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, facing mass quarantines and stay-at-home orders. Cuomo said Saturday that New York reported 630 new deaths in 24 hours — an "all-time increase" that beat the previous day's record of 562 deaths.