News-reading app Flipboard expands local coverage, including coronavirus updates, to 12 more US metros

Earlier this year, personalized news aggregation app Flipboard expanded into local news. The feature brought local news, sports, real estate, weather, transportation news and more to 23 cities across the U.S. Today, Flipboard is bringing local news to 12 more U.S. metros and is adding critical coronavirus local coverage to all of the 35 supported locales.

The 12 new metros include the following:  Baltimore, Charlotte, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Orlando, Raleigh, Salt Lake City, St. Louis and Tampa Bay.

They join the 23 cities that were already supported: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver and Washington, D.C.

To offer local news in its app, Flipboard works with area partners, big and small, like The Plain Dealer’s Cleveland.com, the Detroit Free Press and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It has now added to the list of partners local news service Patch and ProPublica, including its Local Reporting Network partners and its collaborative journalism project Electionland.

Patch alone is putting out more than 200 local coronavirus stories per day. Meanwhile, the ProPublica Local Reporting Network funds and jointly publishes year-long investigative projects with 23 local news organizations across the U.S. The Electionland initiative reports on problems that disenfranchise eligible voters, like misinformation, changing voting laws and rules, voter harassment, equipment failures and long lines at the polls.

To determine if a user should be shown local news, based on a user’s IP address — not a precise location — the app may recommend stories relevant to local audiences. It will also offer the Local sections inside the Explore tab in the Flipboard app. Once added, users can then browse their local news alongside other content they’re interested in, across a variety of topics.

At present, there are two main areas of interest to news readers — the COVID-19 outbreak and the 2020 Election, both of which are now offered in the local sections. In addition to understanding the current state of the pandemic on a global and national level, Flipboard readers in the supported areas will be able to track how the COVID-19 outbreak is impacting where they live. This could include coverage of things like local ordinances, school closings, shelter-in-place laws, number of cases and deaths, testing resources and more.

“Understanding the decisions state and local governments make and their impact on the community is not only important, but gives people a greater connection to their local leaders and the media,” said Marci McCue, VP of Content and Communications at Flipboard. “For instance, as a local resident you may want coverage from national newspapers about the coronavirus outbreak, but even more importantly is a local source that tells you where you can get tested and measures local leaders are taking that impact your daily life,” she noted.

The addition of coronavirus special coverage at a local level, aggregated from across publishers, means readers will be able to track stories without having to hop around different sites or apps from area newspapers or broadcasters.

For Flipboard’s business, adding local news allows advertisers to target against user interests, which may now include a city’s metro region as one of those interests.

Flipboard’s mobile app today reaches 145 million users per month. Local news is available in the supported metros across both iOS and Android .

Prisma Health develops FDA-authorized 3D-printed device that lets a single ventilator treat four patients

The impending shortage of ventilators for U.S. hospitals is likely already a crisis, but will become even more dire as the number grows of patients with COVID-19 that are suffering from severe symptoms and require hospitalization. That’s why a simple piece of hardware newly approved by the FDA for emergency use — and available free via source code and 3D printing for hospitals — might be a key ingredient in helping minimize the strain on front-line response efforts.

The Prisma Health VESper is a deceptively simple-looking three-way connector that expands use of one ventilator to treat up to four patients simultaneously. The device is made for use with ventilators that comply to existing ISO standard ventilator hardware and tubing, and allows use of filtering equipment to block any possible transmission of viruses and bacteria.

VESper works in device pairs, with one attached to the intake of the ventilator, and another attached to the return. They also can be stacked to allow for treatment of up to four patients at once — provided the patients require the same clinical treatment in terms of oxygenation, including the oxygen mix as well as the air pressure and other factors.

This was devised by Dr. Sarah Farris, an emergency room doctor, who shared the concept with her husband Ryan Farris, a software engineer who developed the initial prototype design for 3D printing. Prisma Health is making the VESper available upon request via its printing specifications, but it should be noted that the emergency use authorization under which the FDA approved its use means that this is only intended effectively as a last-resort measure — for institutions where ventilators approved under established FDA rules have already been exhausted, and no other supply or alternative is available in order to preserve the life of patients.

Devices cleared under FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) like this one are fully understood to be prototypes, and the conditions of their use includes a duty to report the results of how they perform in practice. This data contributes to the ongoing investigation of their effectiveness, and to further development and refinement of their design in order to maximize their safety and efficacy.

In addition to offering the plans for in-house 3D printing, Prisma Health has sourced donations to help print units for healthcare facilities that don’t have access to their own 3D printers. The first batch of these will be funded by a donation from the Sargent Foundation of South Carolina, but Prisma Health is seeking additional donations to fund continued research as well as additional production.

Mesa Biotech gains emergency FDA approval for rapid, point-of-care COVID-19 test

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is making use of its Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) powers to expand the pool of available COVID-19 testing resources in the U.S., and now you can add another rapid test that delivers results in just 30 minutes to the list. Mesa’s test is also small enough to be able to be used right at the frontline of care, including in clinics and hospitals, with multiple tests able to be run in parallel.

Mesa’s rapid test follows one from Cepheid that was approved on Monday. Both are PCR-based molecular tests, which identify the presence of virus DNA in a sample of a patient’s mucus. Both these tests prevent an important expansion of the technologies available to those looking to combat the spread of the new coronavirus, since they can provide lab-quality results, but can do so much faster, and without requiring transportation of the samples from the point of collection to off-site testing facilities.

On-site testing not only has advantages in terms of convenience and speedy return of results, but also in limiting the potential exposure of medical personnel to the virus itself. Testing on-site means you don’t need to worry about possible exposure to the virus for more people in the chain, including logistics and delivery people, as well as lab technicians and dedicated diagnostics people.

These tests will require that facilities are equipped with Mesa’s Accula testing system, but its equipment is already in use for testing flu, as well as other less serious equipment, and it was originally designed specifically to address use on the frontlines of efforts to combat global pandemics, including SARS before this.

Kinsa’s fever map could show just how crucial it is to stay home to stop COVID-19 spread

Smart thermometer maker Kinsa has been working on building accurate, predictive models of how seasonal illnesses like the flu travel in and among communities — and its fever map is finding new utility as the novel coronavirus pandemic grows globally. While Kinsa’s US Health Weather Map has no way of tracking the spread of COVID-19 specifically, as it looks only at fevers tied to geographic data, it could provide easy-to-grasp early indicators of the positive effects of social distancing and isolation measures at the community level.

At the time that Kinsa’s health weather map was covered in the New York Times in February, the company had around a million thermometers in market in the U.S., but it had experienced a significant increase in order volume of as many as 10,000 units per day in the week prior to its publication. That means that the company’s analytics are based on a very large data set relative to the total U.S. population. Kinsa founder and CEO Inder Singh told me this allowed them to achieve an unprecedented level of accuracy and granularity in flu forecasting down to the community level, working in partnership with Oregon State University Assistant Professor Ben Dalziel.

“We showed that the core hypothesis for why I started the company is real — and the core hypothesis was you need real-time, medically accurate, geolocated data that’s taken from people who’ve just fallen ill to detect outbreaks and predict the spread of illness,” Singh said. “What we did with our data is we punched it into Ben’s existing, first-principle models on infectious disease spread. And we were able to show that on September 15, we could predict the entire rest of cold and flu season with hyper-accuracy in terms of the peaks and the valleys — all the way out to the rest of flu season, i.e. 20 weeks out on a hyperlocal basis.”

Prior to this, there have been efforts to track and predict flu transmission, but the “state-of-the-art” to date has been predictions at the national or multi-state level — even trends in individual states, let alone within communities, was out of reach. And in terms of lead time, the best achievable was essentially three weeks out, rather than multiple months, as is possible with Kinsa and Dalziel’s model.

Even without the extraordinary circumstances presented by the global COVID-19 pandemic, what Singh, Dalziel and Kinsa have been able to accomplish is a major step forward in tech-enabled seasonal illness tracking and mitigation. But Kinsa also turned on a feature of their health weather map called “atypical illness levels” a month ago, and that could prove an important leading indicator in shedding more light on the transmission of COVID-19 across the U.S. — and the impact of key mitigation strategies like social distancing.

“We’re taking our real-time illness signal, and we’re subtracting out the expectation,” Singh says, explaining how the new view works. “So what you’re left with is atypical illness. In other words, a cluster of fevers that you would not expect from normal cold and flu time. So, presumably, that is COVID-19; I cannot definitively say it’s COVID-19, but what I can say is that it’s an unusual outbreak. It could be an anomalous flu, a strain that’s totally unexpected. It could be something else, but at least a portion of that is almost certainly going to be COVID-19.”

The ‘atypical illness’ view of Kinsa’s US Health Weather Map. Red indicates much higher than expected levels of illness, as indicated by fever.

The graph represents the actual number of reported fevers, versus the expected number for the region (represented in blue) based on Kinsa’s accurate seasonal flu prediction model.

In the example above, Singh says that the spike in fevers coincides with reports of Miami residents and tourists ignoring guidance around recommended distancing. The steep drop-off, however, follows after more extreme measures, including beach closures and other isolation tactics were adopted in the area. Singh says that they’re regularly seeing that areas where residents are ignoring social distancing best practices are seeing spikes, and that as soon as those are implemented, via lock-downs and other measures, within five days of those aggressive actions, you begin to see downward dips in the curve.

Kinsa’s data has the advantage of being real-time and continually updated by its users. That provides it with a time advantage over other indicators, like the results of increased testing programs for COVID-19, in terms of providing some indication of the more immediate effects of social distancing and isolation strategies. One of the criticisms that has appeared relative to these tactics is that the numbers continue to grow for confirmed cases — but experts expect those cases to grow as we expand the availability of testing and identify new cases of community transmission, even though social distancing is having a positive impact.

As Singh pointed out, Kinsa’s data is strictly about fever-range temperatures, not confirmed COVID-19 cases. But fever is a key and early symptom of COVID-19 in those who are symptomatic, and Kinsa’s existing work on predicting the prevalence of fevers related to cold and flu strongly indicate that what we’re looking at is in fact, at least to a significant degree, COVID-19 spread.

While some have balked at other discussions around using location data to track the spread of the outbreak, Singh says that they’re only interested in two things: geographic coordinates and temperature. They don’t want any personal identification details that they can tie to either of those signals, so it truly an anonymous aggregation project.

“There is no possible way to reverse engineer a geographic signal to an individual — it’s not possible to do it,” he told me. “This is the right equation to both protect people’s privacy and expose the data that society and communities need.”

For the purposes of tracking atypical illness, Kinsa isn’t currently able to get quite as granular as it is with its standard observed illness map, because it requires a higher degree of sophistication. But the company is eager to expand its data set with additional thermometers in the market. The Kinsa hardware is already out of stock everywhere, as are most health-related devices, but Singh says they’re pressing ahead with suppliers on sourcing more despite increased component costs across the board. Singh is also eager to work with other smart thermometer makers, either by inputting their data into his model, or by making the Kinsa app compatible with any Bluetooth thermometer that uses the standard connection interface for wireless thermometer hardware.

Currently, Kinsa is working on evolving the atypical illness view to include things like a visual indicator of how fast illness levels are dropping, and how fast they should be dropping in order to effectively break the chain of transmission, as a way to further help inform the public on the impact of their own choices and actions. Despite the widespread agreement by health agencies, researchers and medical professionals, advice to stay home and separated from others definitely presents a challenge for everyone — especially when the official numbers released daily are so dire. Kinsa’s tracker should provide a ray of hope, and a clear sign that each individual contribution matters.

Open-source project spins up 3D-printed ventilator validation prototype in just one week

In a great example of what can happen when smart, technically-oriented people come together in a time of need, an open-source hardware project started by a group including Irish entrepreneur Colin Keogh and Breeze Automation CEO and co-founder Gui Calavanti has produced a prototype ventilator using 3D-printed parts and readily available, inexpensive material. The ventilator prototype was designed and produced in just seven days, after the project spun up on Facebook and attracted participation from over 300 engineers, medical professionals and researchers.

The prototype will now enter into a validation process by the Irish Health Services Executive (HSE), the country’s health regulatory body. This will technically only validate it for use in Ireland, which ironically looks relatively well-stocked for ventilator hardware, but it will be a key stamp of approval that could pave the way for its deployment across countries where there are shortages, including low-income nations.

Ventilator hardware in the U.S. is also likely to encounter shortages, depending on the progress of coronavirus spread in the country. On Wednesday, the White House enacted the Defense Production Act, which provides broad powers to the President for redirecting materials and private company production capacity to building much-needed supplies and equipment in a time of crisis.

During Wednesday’s White House briefing on the current COVID-19 situation, U.S. VP Mike Pence said that there are only 10,000 ventilators in the country’s strategic reserve, which, while it doesn’t take into account the stock of equipment in hospitals or healthcare facilities around the country, likely won’t address the overall needs of medical professionals in case some of the more serious projections about the infection come true.

The project could be one way to help address the shortfall, along with commitments by automakers including GM, Ford and Tesla to produce ventilator equipment should the need arise.

The group behind the ventilator also recently changed the focus of their Facebook community, renaming the group from the Open Source Ventilator Project to the Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies community. They’re looking at expanding their focus to finding ways to cheaply and effectively build and validate other needed equipment, including protective gear like masks, sanitizer and protective face guards for front-line healthcare workers.