How Companies, Governments and People Rise to the Conoravirus Challenge

Mikhail Kolesnikov/

Here are some good examples, both big and small, that make the world a little brighter while we combat coronavirus.

Depending on what part of the country you live in, you might be going into your fourth week of quarantine to fight the coronavirus pandemic, or you might just be starting out. Unfortunately, most evidence suggests that we are in for a long fight. This week I found my mental defenses finally breached by constant COVID-19 updates hammering more and more bad news into my brain. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling a little bit of a creeping despair along with a small side of exhaustion.

I previously covered important news about federal teleworking tips from NIST and CISA, and made some recommendations about products that might help agencies operate more safely during this crisis. However, this time out I want to focus solely on positive news. I’m doing that for my own mental health, and hopefully, it will lighten your spirits a little bit too.

The truth is that as bad as things are or will become, that a lot of people are doing what they can to help out. In fact, that may be the only really good thing to come out of this pandemic. There are literally thousands of examples of people and companies forgoing profits and trying to do the right thing. I wish I could talk about them all. Instead, I tried to collect some good examples, both big and small, that make the world a little brighter while we combat coronavirus.

The first news item comes from a company called Zello, which created a push-to-talk type service that can bypass typical cellular communications. It’s a lot like the old Nextel chirping phones and is designed for use by first responders, law enforcement personnel and others on the frontlines of the coronavirus fight. Because of the outbreak, Zello decided to make its premium push-to-talk service available for free to any first-responder organization that wants to deploy it. The service will be free for at least five years, which is hopefully enough time to kill COVID once and for all.

In terms of industries that are most affected by the virus, airlines and airports would be close to the top of the list. Most airports are expected to remain open, even though there are far fewer flights and passengers. And yet, even with collapsing revenue, most airports are taking steps to try and curtail the spread of the virus. Two companies, Woolpert and Esri, are trying to help them out. They developed a free toolkit so that airports could submit COVID-19 expenses to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It may seem like a small thing, but the toolkit may help encourage airports to work on anti-coronavirus measures during troubling times because they can now more easily get reimbursed by FEMA for up to 75 cents on every dollar they spend.

For residents of cities, the danger of coronavirus is even greater because of the increased number of people who live together in close proximity. We hear about problems in megacities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and even New Orleans, but cities and towns of all sizes are in trouble. To help coordinate a unified response, the Smart Cities Council created a free COVID-19 mitigation tool to allow municipalities to share their experiences and planning activities. Using the tool could help local officials learn what worked and what failed in other places, and share their own success stories. If the tool begins seeing widespread use, it could flatten the learning curve as cities work to flatten the infection rates.

Looking at the problem from a more global scale, the United Nation's Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development held an emergency meeting last week to discuss ways to bring broadband internet to more underserved places. With so many people being asked to stay and work from home, the longstanding issue of poor internet connectivity is coming to the forefront. It’s a lot easier to work from home and stay connected with friends and family if you have access to high-speed internet. Many places in the United States still don’t have reliable internet service, to say nothing of the world at large. The commission crafted an agenda for action to try and spur improvements to existing broadband while also speeding the deployment of new internet services wherever they are needed during the pandemic.

To wrap things up, I wanted to mention two purely fun activities, especially for all the federal workers and others who are trying to live, work and coexist with their families exclusively at home. For those of you who have a love of art and culture, or who are looking for an activity the kids can do during their quarantine, can check out some virtual tours of world class museums. We are talking about places like the Louvre Museum in Paris and the Guggenheim in New York. Although they are temporarily closed to visitors, there are some pretty interactive virtual tours that might make you feel like you are there all by yourself. Spending quiet time with classic works of art is soothing for your senses and your soul.

Finally, I know sports fans are especially bummed these days. Last week should have been the home opener here in Washington for the World Series Champion Nationals baseball team. Instead, fans had to sing baseball songs from outside the closed stadium. Other sports like basketball are also postponed or cancelled. There wasn’t any March Madness, and even the Olympics are postponed till next year.

Esports companies are trying to pick up a little bit of that slack, including Gfinity Esports which is hosting the world’s first professional virtualized Grand Prix race. Participants will race using the F1 2019 videogame, and the field includes real Formula One drivers. The events have full color commentary by sports announcers and last for hours on end, just like the real thing. Organizers say they plan to host an online race for every cancelled event in the real F1 circuit. There are even a few exhibition events planned where fans can race alongside their favorite drivers—something most of us would never get to do in real life.

The coronavirus hit us so quickly that we didn’t have much time to react, and today seems almost like a bad dream compared with life just a couple months ago. But companies, governments, private organizations and just ordinary people are all stepping up and trying to help however they can. As long as we all keep working together, we’ll get through this. In the meantime, please try and stay safe. And keep being good to one another.

John Breeden II is an award-winning journalist and reviewer with over 20 years of experience covering technology. He is the CEO of the Tech Writers Bureau, a group that creates technological thought leadership content for organizations of all sizes. Twitter: @LabGuys