Some startups treated Covid-19 as a call to action.
In Utah, a group of companies affiliated with Silicon Slopes, a nonprofit that serves as an umbrella group for the state's tech scene, tapped every resource they could to help out: One company built a system to track the virus; others helped get eight million pieces of PPE to those who need it. Since April 1, the group says it's gotten more than 98,000 Utahans to self-assess through a web portal and administered around 17,000 tests at seven locations around the state.
Now Silicon Slopes is helping other states do the same, starting with Iowa, which began testing Saturday, and Nebraska, which is rolling out similar efforts this week.
"The response requires everyone," says Utah lieutenant governor Spencer Cox. Business was "at the table" from the very beginning of Utah's crisis planning, Cox says, and they weren't alone: "Business, our faith-based community, the nonprofit community have all stepped up," he says.
This crisis has brought out the good in people, says Kristen Cox (no relation), director of the Governor's Office of Management and Budget. "People get focused on what's important," she says. "I think the thing with this virus is about speed and scale: You've got to go faster than the virus. And you have to scale at an amount that you can crush this thing."
Domo founder and CEO Josh James began thinking about what to do in February. A 2018Inc. 5000 company based in American Fork (it's now public), Domo delivers real-time information and metrics for businesses like DHL, Disney, and Cisco. Before many Americans had even heard of the virus, James was in Japan and saw people wearing masks. "But then I come to the U.S. and we're walking around like everything's hunky-dory," James says. "It was such a stark contrast to me."
Could his company's cloud-based software be used to track the virus? "We're a data company," James recalls thinking. "We could probably manage this." His team of data scientists built something within 72 hours.
The Coronavirus Tracker is a series of visualizations using information from the World Health Organization, Johns Hopkins, and other trusted sources. Users can track reported cases, deaths, and how many people are being tested by state and country. There's also information on the impact on the economy and how well different regions are adhering to social distancing guidelines.
Cited by various state and city agencies and the Society of Professional Journalists, the tracker updates every 10 minutes and can be embedded into other websites to further spread information and projections.
Crushing the Curve
Tracking, however useful, wasn't enough. The need was testing. Domo teamed up with other Utah companies, including Qualtrics, ATL Technology, Nomi Health, and Co-Diagnostics, to secure FDA Emergency Use authorization for their own tests, source the necessary materials to administer them, develop QR codes and databases to manage the logistics, partner with labs for diagnostics, and build temporary drive-through testing sites in seven cities throughout the state, including Provo, Ogden, and St. George.
The group launched Test Utah, a simple web portal designed to get people to self-diagnose and which directs them to testing facilities. Utah's own coronavirus portal notes that there have been around 100,000 tests total in the state with around 4,000 people with lab-confirmed cases of Covid-19. According to Dave Elkington, founder of Xant, a sales automation platform, 22,000 people have scheduled testing appointments through the portal. Elkington said the Test Iowa site has in one week seen 100,000 people self-assess. Actual testing began in Des Moines last Saturday.
Each state is paying for these services, which Silicon Slopes has acknowledged in a detailed post--with numbers--on Medium.
The Test Utah site has come under some scrutiny for questions it asks about whether respondents are allergic to hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug floated as a possible Covid treatment but since deemed unsafe by the FDA. Test Iowa and Test Nebraska will not ask about hydroxychloroquine, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
The revelations about hydroxychloroquine, as well as the size of contracts (Iowa will pay $26 million for testing services through the Test Utah group, for example), have drawn sharp criticism on social media.
"There are people who want to criticize," says Ryan Smith, CEO of Qualtrics, a Provo-based management tool for customer ratings that's now part of SAP. "A lot of it's political on how to go about this or they're upset with one side of the government party or a governor. That's not what this is about. It's about how do we all get back to normal?"