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A lot of startups have answered the call for more personal protective equipment (PPE) and other essentials to support healthcare workers in their efforts to curb the spread and impact of COVID-19. One of those is direct-to-consumer 3D-printed eyewear brand Fitz, which is employing its custom-fit glasses technology to build protective, prescription specs to frontline healthcare workers in need of the best protection they can get.

Fitz Protect is a version of Fitz’s eyesore that uses the same custom measurement tool Fitz created for use via its iOS app, made possible by Apple’s depth-sensing Face ID camera on newer iPhones and all iPad Pro models. The app allows virtual try-on, and provides millimeter-level accurate measurements for a custom fit. Protect is a version of the glasses that still supports a wide range of prescriptions, but that also extends further like safety glasses to provide more coverage and guard against errant entry of any fluids through the eyes.

Health care professionals are doing what they can to ensure their face, mouth, nose and eyes are protected from any coughs, sneezes or other droplet-spreading activity from COVID-19 patients that could pass on the infection. These measures have more broadly focused on face shields that feature a single transparent plastic sheet, and N95 masks (and alternatives when not available) to protect the mouth and nose.

Fitz CEO Gabriel Schlumberger explained via email that the design for Fitz Protect came from working frontline doctors in nurses from New York, LA and Texas who were all looking for something to source prescription protective eyewear.

“More than 60% of doctors are glasses wearers, and current guidance is for them to stop wearing contact lenses,” Schlumberger explained, adding that Fitz Protect is also designed to be worn in conjunction with a face shield, when that’s an available option, and provide yet another layer of defense.

“We heard from prescription glasses wearers that their standard glasses didn’t provide anywhere near adequate coverage, especially over the eyebrows, and in some cases they were adding cardboard cut-outs,” he said. “We leveraged our existing system to create something much better. ”

Fitz’s model also helps on the pricing side because it’s already designed to be an aggressively cost-competitive offering when compared to traditional prescription eyesore. Their glasses typically retail for just $ 95 including frames, lenses and shipping, and are also offered in a $ 185 per year unlimited frame membership plan. For doctors, nurses and hospital staff, the entire cost of Fitz Protect is being waived, and the company is seeking donations to help offset its own manufacturing costs, which currently stand at around $ 100 per set, though process improvements should bring that down according to Schlumberger as they expand availability.

Already, he said that nearly 3,000 healthcare professionals have signed up to receive a pair in their first week of availability, so they’re working on adding scale to keep up with the unexpected demand.


TechCrunch

Despite what companies have said about providing personal protective equipment to gig workers, some workers say they are struggling to get masks, gloves and other items from companies like Target-owned Shipt, Uber, Lyft and Instacart.

“PPE is still a huge issue for us,” Shipt shopper and organizer Willy Solis told TechCrunch. “We have dozens of reports across the country where shoppers have gone to pick up their equipment to be told it’s only for employees. On top of that, Target’s Twitter account essentially said that much.”

Earlier this month, Shipt workers staged a walk-off in protest of Shipt’s treatment of workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Around that time, Shipt said it would provide all shoppers with gloves and a mask within the next two weeks. Those shoppers, Shipt said, would be able to pick them up at their nearest Target stores. Shipt said it also would allow its most active shoppers to claim a free kit that included gloves and hand sanitizer. But some shoppers report struggling to pick up the PPE at Target and through the Shipt app.

Shipt declined to comment for this story but pointed us to both Shipt’s and Target’s respective announcements.

Over in Los Angeles, some Uber and Lyft drivers say the rideshare companies have yet to provide them with face masks and other protective equipment. This is in light of LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Worker Protection Order, which requires companies to provide essential workers with PPE.

“As an Uber driver, I’m incredibly vulnerable to infection,” Uber driver Deborah Garcia said in a statement. “I transport dozens of passengers every day, and many are the doctors and nurses dealing with coronavirus cases up close. Uber and Lyft love to talk about drivers as heroes on the frontlines, but what does it say about these companies that they’d rather brainstorm clever hashtags than use even a small slice of their billions to keep drivers like me safe? It’s infuriating, and it’s time for our elected officials to take action.”

Uber says it’s begun distributing masks to active drivers and delivery workers throughout the nation, initially focused on New York City and Los Angeles. Active drivers and delivery people in Los Angeles who have requested masks should receive them in the mail by the end of this week, according to Uber.

“This is a long term commitment,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We have ordered tens of millions of masks for drivers around the world and expect another major shipment to the US very soon.”

Uber says it has also started shipping around 30,000 bottles of disinfectant. Lyft, in response to claims that the company is not providing PPE, says what drivers are saying is not true.

“In light of the latest CDC guidance on cloth face coverings, we’ve ordered face masks for drivers at no cost to them,” a Lyft spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We have been making them available to drivers, prioritizing regions where additional guidance about face coverings has been given. This includes LA, where we’ve already begun handing out thousands of face coverings to drivers.”

Lyft began distributing masks last Saturday, and distributed some more this past Monday and Wednesday. Lyft plans to distribute more on Friday. So far, Lyft says it has been able to hand out thousands of masks.

There are also reports that Instacart shoppers are having difficulty obtaining hand sanitizer and reusable face masks, according to The Hill. Instacart says it has been providing shoppers with hand sanitizer since last week and began shipping thousands of kits with face masks, sanitizer and thermometers this past Monday.

Nationwide, there is an understanding that gig workers delivering food and groceries, and providing rides to people during the pandemic are essential. As more cities begin to implement rules requiring people to wear masks upon entering grocery stores, companies will be forced to step up their production and delivery of personal protective equipment to workers.


TechCrunch

What do a heating filter company, a robotics startup and an architecture startup have in common? Usually, nothing. But right now, as COVID-19 sweeps the world and jeopardizes the lives of millions, companies are shifting operations to make N95 masks and ventilators for healthcare workers.

The innovation coming out of the startup world has been breathtaking, and, quite honestly, hard to keep up with. It feels like everyone in Silicon Valley and beyond is rising to the challenge, even if they don’t have pockets as deep as Amazon and Google.

So, for a drop of good news and hope at least once a week, we’re rounding up some of the startup efforts we’re seeing to combat the impact of COVID-19. This isn’t a place where we’ll be analyzing startups working on proposed cures (you can check out Darrell’s tireless work for that). Instead, we’ll look at the unique ways that companies are trying to make us feel less lonely and unpack how tech is answering the questions we’re starting to ask ourselves.


Stopcovid.co

The founder of Managed by Q, Dan Teran, has teamed up with training services startup ESLWorks to text message the latest coronavirus updates to front-line workers in real time. The Stopcovid.co initiative targets workers who may not have the support of a big organization but still need to follow the health recommendations of the CDC. The messages are sent via WhatsApp and text message so users who are not digitally apt can access the information with ease. When I caught up with Teran, he said that, “I don’t want to characterize the population we’re trying to reach, but if I were a delivery driver for 12 to 14 hours a day trying to put food on the table, I’m probably not up to date on the virus and how it spreads.”


Cornell Tech Clinic

Cornell Tech Clinic is helping domestic violence survivors get support during a time when individuals are forced to stay inside and rely on virtual communities. The clinic launched a remote program to give advice to abuse survivors who are worried that their partners are using technology to abuse them, whether that is cyberstalking or monitoring every call or chat. The new program will include how to best get in touch with a case worker remotely, how-to guides for self help and a research study on how to aid those experiencing tech abuse.

S’More and Hopeline

Dating app S’More, which helps users connect beyond physical appearance, is teaming up with a mental health crisis prevention hotline Hopeline to raise money. The campaign, called “social distancing is not emotional distancing,” will make a $ 1 donation to Hopeline for every person who starts a conversation on S’More.

Procore construction management

Procore, a construction management software developer, is giving customers free access to its software for projects being built for COVID-19-related emergency relief products. The hope is to support the construction industry in flipping hotels, convention centers and more into emergency medical facilities, sans the extra money for software.

Wize tutoring platform

Wize, piggybacking off of a slew of edtech companies offering freebies, is making its tutoring platform for free until the end of the school year. Students who have felt the impact of their school or university shutting down can access a library of exam or test preparation materials.

Springboard career coaching

Edtech startup Springboard is offering a weekly career coaching seminar for free to help job seekers prepare for a “post-pandemic economy.” The AMA will be held every Wednesday, starting April 1 from 12:30 to 1:30pm PST.

Voxel51

Voxel51 is using live, pre-existing cameras to track how preventative measures are being followed around the world. It uses artificial intelligence to give a window into social activity in popular public spaces, and “scores” areas based on social behaviors. It’s a way to track how much people are listening to public health recommendations.

Tech Manitoba and Computers for Schools

When Tech Manitoba, a local nonprofit in Canada, had only eight refurbished computers for the 150 families in need, it knew it needed a bigger solution. Tech Manitoba teamed up with Computers for Schools and is now gifting 200 refurbished, sanitized computers to those in need.

One Planet prayer chain

One Planet, a venture firm, started a global prayer chain. The site, LightUpTheWorld.org, lets people from all over the world post prayers and reflections focused on health and optimism. When you go to the site, the prayer you see is being written and posted in real time by the author.

Stilt low-interest loan

Stilt is a tech startup that claims it gives low-interest loans to immigrants to help them build credit based on requirements beyond Social Security number and credit history. It is offering its customers who are hourly workers, and make less than $ 45,000 a year, an immediate freeze on interest for payments and a forbearance — which is a delay on foreclosure — for two months.


TechCrunch

Amazon, the e-commerce giant that has fared well financially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, is facing a bevy of worker strikes. Today, warehouse workers on Staten Island in New York walked off the job in protest of Amazon’s treatment amid the crisis.

“Like all businesses grappling with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we are working hard to keep employees safe while serving communities and the most vulnerable,” an Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We have taken extreme measures to keep people safe, tripling down on deep cleaning, procuring safety supplies that are available, and changing processes to ensure those in our buildings are keeping safe distances. The truth is the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for customers every day.”

In solidarity with warehouse workers, tech workers at Amazon are demanding the company provide fully paid family leave for people who miss work, provide fully paid leave to all Amazon workers, close facilities immediately following contamination, ensure full paid leave for workers whose jobs are impacted by such closures and ensure everyone has unlimited time to take care of their health.

“Recognizing the urgency of the moment, tech workers are going beyond asking Amazon to take action and are pledging not to work for Amazon if it fails to act,” the DC Tech Workers Coalition wrote in a petition. “We also pledge to ask organizations in our communities such as universities and conferences to not accept Amazon as a sponsor or participant in events.”

Meanwhile, workers at Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon, are organizing a “sick out” strike tomorrow to demand better protections on the job, Vice reports.

According to Vice, Whole Foods workers will call in sick tomorrow and demand paid sick leave for those who stay at home or self-quarantine during the pandemic. They will also demand free coronavirus testing for employees and hazard pay.

Led by group Whole Worker, the sick-out was originally planned for May 1, but was moved up in response to reports that workers have started getting sick and testing positive for COVID-19.

“As this situation has progressed, our fundamental needs as workers have become more urgent,” the group wrote on its campaign page. “COVID-19 poses a very real threat to the safety of our workforce and our customers. We cannot wait for politicians, institutions, or our own management to step in to protect us.”

This action will come one day after Instacart workers are refusing to shop and deliver groceries until the company meets their demands. Shoppers’ current demands are offering hazard pay of $ 5 extra per order, changing the default tip to 10%, and extending the sick pay policy to those who have a doctor’s note for a pre-existing condition that may make them more susceptible to contracting the virus.

“For the sake of public health and worker safety, every non-union grocery worker must speak out,” United Fodo and Commercial Workers International Union President Marc Perrone said in a statement. “If Amazon, Instacart, and Whole Foods are unwilling to do what is right to protect their workers and our communities, the UFCW is ready to listen and do all we can to help protect these brave workers from irresponsible employers who are ignoring the serious threat posed by the rapidly growing coronavirus outbreak.”


TechCrunch

Dozens of startups have stepped up in India in recent quarters to improve banking experience for millions of users and businesses in the country. As a result, tens of thousands of people who could not get a loan or a credit card from a bank can now secure both from fintech startups.

But this push to bring financial inclusion to everyone still has many areas to cover. Blue-collar workers, for instance, are still facing challenges in availing some basic banking services.

Kosh, a Y Combinator-backed startup (W20), is beginning to tackle this challenge. It groups three or as many as ten blue-collar workers and gives them a loan.

“When a user logs into our Android app, they are able to apply for a loan. But before they do that, they need to add some of their colleagues and friends who are also looking for a loan,” explained Aayush Goel, co-founder of Kosh, in an interview with TechCrunch.

This way of banding together people allows Kosh to charge a lower rate of interest on the loan, said Goel.

“We have borrowed this from the world of microfinance. Essentially, we have a joint liability model. Let us say there were three people who were looking for a loan. We band them together and instead of giving each of them a separate loan, we give the group one loan” he said.

Aayush Goel (pictured above), and Sahil Bansal co-founded Kosh in March last year

In each group, at least one member is credit-worthy in the traditional sense, he explained. The startup also uses alternative data such as information gleaned from text messages to determine a person’s eligibility.

Such an arrangement has traditionally seen fewer people default (or fall behind paying their debt) because of social pressure from their colleagues and friends, as all of them are liable.

Kosh started to disburse loans in December. It currently offers loans up to twice the salary of an individual and over a tenure of up to 10 months, said Goel. The startup has disbursed close to 150 loans worth $ 35,000. It works with a Noida-based non-banking financial company to fund these loans.

The startup said it plans to broaden its neobanking offering this year by creating bank accounts for its customers. “There is a general lack of discipline in how these people spend their money. Having access to a bank account that works for them could prove very useful,” said Goel.

In recent years, a handful of startups such as Bangalore-based Open and NiYO Solutions have developed neobanks or alternative banks to serve businesses and individuals. In January, two former Google Pay executives announced their own neobank startup that aims to serve millennials.

GIGI Benefits, another Y Combinator-backed startup (W20), offers insurance and savings — perks that only full-time employees typically have — to gig-economy workers and freelancers.

“We help each worker set aside part of a paycheque to cover their costs of insurance, short-term expenses, and plan for their retirement,” said Sowmya Rao, founder and chief executive of GIGI Benefits, in a post.


TechCrunch

Researchers have come up with a mobile-sensing system that can track and rate the performance of workers by combining a smartphone, fitness bracelets and a custom app.

The mobile-sensing system, as the researchers call it, is able to classify high and low performers. The team used the system to track 750 U.S. workers for one year. The system was able to tell the difference between high performers and low performers with 80% accuracy.

The aim, the researchers say, is to give employees insight into physical, emotional and behavioral well-being. But that constant flow of data also has a downside, and if abused, can put employees under constant surveillance by the companies they work for.

The researchers, including Dartmouth University computer science professor Andrew Campbell, whose earlier work on a student monitoring app provided the underlying technology for this system, see this as a positive gateway to improving worker productivity.

“This is a radically new approach to evaluating workplace performance using passive sensing data from phones and wearables,” said Campbell. “Mobile sensing and machine learning might be the key to unlocking the best from every employee.”

The researchers argue that the technology can provide a more objective measure of performance than self-evaluations and interviews, which they say can be unreliable.

The mobile-sensing system developed by the researchers has three distinct pieces. A smartphone tracks physical activity, location, phone use and ambient light. The fitness tracker monitors heart functions, sleep, stress and body measurements like weight and calorie consumption. Meanwhile, location beacons placed in the home and office provide information on time at work and breaks from the desk.

From here, cloud-based machine learning algorithms are used to classify workers by performance level.

The study found that higher performers typically had lower rates of phone usage, had longer periods of deep sleep and were more physically active.

Privacy experts and labor advocates have long raised concerns about the practice of tracking employees. That hasn’t stopped companies from incentivizing employees to wear fitness tracks in exchange for savings on insurance or other benefits. Startups have popped up to offer even more ways to track employees.

For instance, WeWork acquired in February Euclid, a data platform that tracks the identity and behavior of people in the physical world. Shiva Rajaraman, WeWork’s chief product officer, told TechCrunch at the time that the Euclid platform and its team will become integrated into a software analytics package that WeWork plans to sell to companies that aren’t renting WeWork space but want to WeWork-ify their own offices.

Meanwhile, the team of researchers suggests that while its system of continuous monitoring via wearables and other devices is not yet available, it could be coming in the next few years. It’s unclear if the team is making a calculated guess or if there are designs to try and launch this system as a product.

The team, led by Dartmouth University, included researchers from University of Notre Dame, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Washington, University of Colorado Boulder, University of California, Irvine, Ohio State University, University of Texas at Austin and Carnegie Mellon University .

A paper describing the study will be published in the Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile Wearable and Ubiquitous Technology.


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