European countries are ahead of us when it comes to the tragic impact of coronavirus on people, health systems, and daily life. But they also have a head start when it comes to finding creative solutions. At least one of their innovations is coming soon to the States with the help of some of the nation's largest tech companies: a massive hackathon to develop tech tools to combat the virus. 

A similar event already came to fruition in Germany where more than 40,000 participants came together to come up with 800 projects to help with various aspects of the crisis: 

Now, companies including Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook are helping to organize a similar meeting of the tech minds here in the U.S. The virtual event, dubbed #BuildforCOVID19, is in partnership with the WHO and open to all. It will be hosted by online hackathon provider Devpost.  

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked up the potential for technologists to do some good on his personal Facebook page, noting "hackathons have always been an important part of how we come up with new ideas and projects at Facebook. Features like Blood Donations and Crisis Response were first built during hackathons."

Participants can be as creative as they like with their projects, but the WHO has suggested areas where help is most needed. Here's a list from the event's homepage:  

  1. Health: Address and scale a range of health initiatives, including preventive/hygiene behaviors (especially for at-risk countries and populations), supporting frontline health workers, scaling telemedicine, contact tracing/containment strategies, and treatment and diagnosis development.

  2. Vulnerable Populations: The set of problems facing the elderly and the immuno-compromised, such as access to meals and groceries, and supporting those who are losing jobs and income.

  3. Businesses: The set of problems that businesses are facing to stay afloat, collaborate effectively, and move parts of their business online.

  4. Community: Promoting connection to friends, family, and neighbors to combat social isolation and the digitizing of public services for local governments.

  5. Education: Alternative learning environments and tools for students, teachers, and entire school systems.

  6. Entertainment: Alternatives to traditional forms of entertainment that can keep the talent and audiences safe and healthy.

The event kicks off today and the deadline for submissions is March 30th, with selected projects being announced April 3rd. If you've got tech chops and time on your hands, this is a great way to do your part to help those most hard-hit by the pandemic.