The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said today that it would allow new diagnostics technologies to be used to test for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, at elite academic hospitals and healthcare facilities around the country.
The agency’s new initiative comes as critics have assailed various U.S. government agencies for being woefully underprepared to effectively address the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country despite being aware of the potential risks the virus posed since the first cases were reported in Wuhan, China in early December.
As the first diagnosed cases of the new virus appeared in the country, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had conducted only 459 tests. Meanwhile, China had five commercial tests for the coronavirus on the market one month ago and can now conduct up to 1.6 million tests per week. South Korea has tested another 65,00 people so far, according to a report in Science Magazine. Initial tests in the U.S. were hampered by the distribution of test kits which contained a faulty reagent — rendering the kits useless.
The CDC isn’t the only U.S. agency criticized for its mishandling of the response to a potential outbreak. On Thursday a whistleblower complaint was filed against the Department of Health and Human Services alleging that the agency sent over a dozen employees to Wuhan to evacuate American citizens from the country without the proper training or protective gear, as first reported by The Washington Post.
Now, the Food and Drug Administration is opening the doors for research centers across the country to use new technologies that have yet to be approved for emergency use in order to dramatically increase the number of tests healthcare facilities can perform.
“We believe this policy strikes the right balance during this public health emergency,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, in a statement. “We will continue to help to ensure sound science prior to clinical testing and follow-up with the critical independent review from the FDA, while quickly expanding testing capabilities in the U.S. We are not changing our standards for issuing Emergency Use Authorizations. This action today reflects our public health commitment to addressing critical public health needs and rapidly responding and adapting to this dynamic and evolving situation.”
The new policy allows laboratories to begin to use validated COVID-19 diagnostics before the FDA has completed review of the labs’ Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) requests, the agency said in a statement.
In cases where the Department of Health and Human Services indicates that there’s a public health emergency or a significant potential for a public health emergency, the FDA can issue these EUAs to permit the use of medical products that can diagnose, treat, or prevent a disease. The HHS secretary determined that the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus was just such an emergency on February 4.
So far, the FDA has authorized one EUA for COVID-19 that’s already being used by the CDC and some public health labs, the agency said.
“The global emergence of COVID-19 is concerning, and we appreciate the efforts of the FDA to help bring more testing capability to the U.S.,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD).
Development of new diagnostics tests are handled by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the HHS Office responsible for preparedness and response to health issues.
“This step may reduce development costs, speed the process for availability at more testing sites, incentivize private development and, ultimately, help save lives,” said Rick Bright, the BARDA’s director.
Startups like the Redwood City, Calif.-based genome sequencing device manufacturer, Genapsys, and Co-Diagnostics, another molecular diagnostics startup out of Salt Lake City, have been approached by the Chinese government and European testing facilities, respectively.
In the U.S. a number of large, publicly traded companies and startups are pursuing new diagnostics tools that can be used to identify the novel strain of the coronavirus.
“At BARDA, we are identifying industry partners to develop rapid diagnostics that can be used in commercial and hospital labs or even doctors’ offices so that medical professionals and their patients have the information they need to take action,” Bright said.
Slack calls are having ‘connectivity issues’
Slack has confirmed that “Slack Calls are experiencing some connectivity difficulties right now.” The company said it is working to resolve the issue “as quickly as possible.” The difficulties coincide with the push from tech companies to move workers to remote-only meetings and conference calls, amid the outbreak of COVID-19. Slack did not comment on…
Slack has confirmed that “Slack Calls are experiencing some connectivity difficulties right now.” The company said it is working to resolve the issue “as quickly as possible.” The difficulties coincide with the push from tech companies to move workers to remote-only meetings and conference calls, amid the outbreak of COVID-19.
Slack did not comment on any correlation between the two, or identify what factors are behind the connectivity issues.
Hey @SlackHQ @SlackStatus there’s definitely something up with calls. Everyone keeps getting randomly disconnected, but not all the way. Screen goes black and it just starts randomly playing connect and disconnect sounds.
— matt.js (@mattisadev) March 11, 2020
In a previous blog post outlining Slack’s response to COVID-19, it said “our system architecture is designed to automatically accommodate the surges of traffic throughout the day that this brings to our systems.” The company said its server capacity can handle the demands, as well as the various regions from which users may be logging in. Slack also outlined how the shift to remote may not add a crazy load to its systems.
“The demands on our infrastructure do not change when employees shift away from working together in the same office; there is no difference in load on our systems whether people are connecting from their office, a cellular network, or their homes.”
It added that employees already use an average of nine hours per day, so the volume remains the same.
Establishing an emergency relief fund, Amazon commits to two-week pay for workers affected by COVID-19
Amazon has instituted a new policy which will see all Amazon employees diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed into quarantine receiving up to two-weeks of pay. The additional pay is to “ensure employees have the time they need to return to good health without the worry of lost pay,” the company said in a statement. That…
The additional pay is to “ensure employees have the time they need to return to good health without the worry of lost pay,” the company said in a statement.
That pay is in addition to unlimited paid time off for all hourly employees through the end of March, which the company announced as a policy to its workers last week.
The company also said it was setting up a relief fund with a $25 million contribution to support delivery service partners and drivers along with Amazon Flex participants and seasonal employees.
“We will be offering all of these groups the ability to apply for grants approximately equal to up to two weeks of pay if diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed into quarantine by the government or Amazon,” the company said.
The fund will also support employees and contractors who face financial hardships due to natural disasters, federal emergencies or personal hardship, the company said.
Amazon affiliated workers can apply to receive grant funding ranging from $400 to $5,000 per person.
With this initiative Amazon builds on the commitments it has made as one of several tech companies helping to financially support individuals impacted by the outbreak.
Uber, Salesforce, Cisco, Microsoft, Lyft, Square, Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Apple, have all made commitments to pay hourly and other contingent workers impacted the COVID-19 outbreak. Yesterday, Google announced that it had set up a COVID-19 fund as well.
“As we’re in a transition period in the U.S.—and to cover any gaps elsewhere in the world—Google is establishing a COVID-19 fund that will enable all our temporary staff and vendors, globally, to take paid sick leave if they have potential symptoms of COVID-19, or can’t come into work because they’re quarantined,” writes Adrienne Crowther, Google’s director of workplace services.
“Working with our partners, this fund will mean that members of our extended workforce will be compensated for their normal working hours if they can’t come into work for these reasons. We are carefully monitoring the situation and will continue to assess any adjustments needed over the coming months.”
In addition, Microsoft, Amazon and other Seattle-area companies are partnering with nonprofits and governments to launch a relief fund in response to the outbreak. Amazon and Microsoft committed $1 million apiece to this fund. Microsoft said it would also match employee donations to causes aiding in response to COVID-19.
Superpeer raises $2M to help influencers and experts make money with one-on-one video calls
Superpeer is giving YouTube creators and other experts a new way to make money. The startup announced today that it has raised $2 million in pre-seed funding led by Eniac Ventures, with participation from angel investors including Steven Schlafman, Ankur Nagpal, Julia Lipton, Patrick Finnegan, Justin De Guzman, Chris Lu, Paul Yacoubian and Cheryl Sew…
Superpeer is giving YouTube creators and other experts a new way to make money.
The startup announced today that it has raised $2 million in pre-seed funding led by Eniac Ventures, with participation from angel investors including Steven Schlafman, Ankur Nagpal, Julia Lipton, Patrick Finnegan, Justin De Guzman, Chris Lu, Paul Yacoubian and Cheryl Sew Hoy. It also launched on ProductHunt.
The idea is that if you’re watching a video to learn how to paint, or how to code, or about whatever the topic might be, there’s a good chance you have follow-up questions — maybe a lot of them. Ditto if you follow someone on Twitter, or read their blog posts, to learn more about a specific subject.
Now you could try to submit a question or two via tweet or comment section, but you’re probably not going to get any in-depth interaction — and that’s if they respond. You could also try to schedule a “Can I pick your brain?”-type coffee meeting, but again, the odds aren’t in your favor, particularly when it comes to picking the brain of someone famous or highly in-demand.
With Superpeer, experts who are interested in sharing their knowledge can do so via remote, one-on-one video calls. They upload an intro video, the times that they want to be available for calls and how much they want to charge for their time. Then Superpeer handles the appointments (integrating directly with the expert’s calendar), the calls and the payments, adding a 15% fee on top.
So a YouTube creator could start adding a message at the end of their videos directing fans who want to learn more to their Superpeer page. And if you’re a founder who wants to talk to an experienced designer, executive coach, product manager, marketing/sales expert, VC or other founder, you could start with this list.
Of course, there might be some wariness on both sides, whether you’re an expert who doesn’t want to get stuck on the phone with someone creepy or annoying, or someone who doesn’t want to pay for a call that turns out to be a complete waste of time.
To address this, co-founder and CEO Devrim Yasar (who previously founded collaborative programming startup Koding) said the company has created a user rating system, as well as a way to ask for a refund if you feel that a call violated the terms of service — the calls will be recorded and stored for 48 hours for this purpose.
Superpeer launched in private beta two weeks ago, and Yasar said the startup already has more than 100 Superpeers signed up.