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As California Trains 20,000 Contact Tracers, Librarians and Tax Assessors Step Up

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San Francisco librarian Lisa Fagundes was redeployed during the pandemic to work as a contact tracer. (Courtesy of Jasmin Serim) hide caption

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(Courtesy of Jasmin Serim)

San Francisco librarian Lisa Fagundes was redeployed during the pandemic to work as a contact tracer.

(Courtesy of Jasmin Serim)

After more than two months at home, Lisa Fagundes really misses her work managing the science fiction book collection of the San Francisco Public Library. She feels like she’s in withdrawal, longing to see new books, touch them, smell them. “It’s like a disease,” she says, laughing.

But recently, she’s been learning how to combat a different disease: COVID-19. While libraries are closed, Fagundes is one of dozens of librarians in San Francisco training to become contact tracers, workers who call people who have been exposed to the coronavirus and ask them to self-quarantine so they don’t spread it further.

Librarians are an obvious choice for the job, says Fagundes, who normally works at the information desk of the San Francisco Main Library. They’re curious, they’re tech savvy, and they’re really good at getting people they barely know to open up.

“Because a lot of times patrons come up to you and they’re like, ‘Uh, I’m looking for a book –’ and they don’t really know what they’re looking for or they don’t know how to describe it,” Fagundes says.

Or they’re teens afraid to admit out loud that they’re looking for books about sex or queer identity. Fagundes is used to coaxing it out of them in an unflappable, non-judgmental way. Similar skills are needed for contact tracing, which involves asking people about their health status and personal history.

“Talking about sensitive subjects is a natural thing for librarians,” she says. “It’s a lot of open ended questions, trying to get people to feel that you’re listening to them and not trying to take advantage or put your own viewpoint on their story.”

Fagundes is part of the first team of contact tracers trained through a new virtual academy based at the University of California – San Francisco. The state awarded the university an $8.7 million contract in May to expand the academy and train 20,000 new contact tracers throughout California by July — one of the largest such efforts in the country.

Ramping up to be ready for new cases

California Gov. Gavin Newsom says counties need 15 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents to adequately contain the virus after shelter-in-place orders are lifted.

Smaller contact tracing teams have been able to manage the work load in recent months, while most people have been staying home. Local health officials said each new person who tested positive for the coronavirus was in close contact with an average of four or five people while infectious — usually family members and neighbors.

But as counties begin allowing businesses to re-open, a person’s average contacts will go up to 40, and will be much harder to locate, necessitating a larger workforce to identify and call them.

“You have a four- or five-day window to find people and get them isolated, which is what we do instead of treat them, because we don’t have treatment for COVID,” says Dr. George Rutherford, a UCSF professor of epidemiology who is leading the training effort.

Learning communication — and investigation — skills

The new training program takes 20 hours over the course of five days to complete, and involves lessons on epidemiology and motivational interviewing, and demonstrations of how to do contact tracing phone calls.

Right now, all contact tracers are working from home while they are on paid furlough or working part-time at their regular jobs. The state only provides funding for the training, not to cover compensation.

In addition to librarians, San Francisco has asked government employees from the tax assessor and city attorney offices to help out, including financial analysts, paralegals, and investigators. Some rural counties have been recruiting sheriff’s deputies for the job.

Megan Elliott is a manager in the San Francisco Assessor’s Office, where she oversees the valuation of real estate to figure out how much tax to charge. She is used to having conversations where she has to tell people things they don’t want to hear.

“For residential properties, a lot of times it has to do with a property owner who believes that we unfairly valued their new construction project,” she says. “So my job is to communicate to the taxpayers in a way that they can better understand why we do what we do and to help them see the reason and rationale behind that.”

It takes similar finesse to tell people they’ve been in contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, and they can’t go to work for the next two weeks. Elliott explains the importance of protecting the community from the virus, or the difference between quarantine (staying home if you’ve been exposed but aren’t symptomatic) and isolation (avoiding family members within your home if you do know you are sick).

Investigators from the city attorney’s office have been applying their people-finding skills. Some people who become ill may be reluctant to share information about their close contacts, or, they just don’t know enough information about the people they’ve been in close quarters with.

“Let’s say you’re on a job site, working construction and you had lunch with a guy, ‘Oh, it’s Bob, he’s a steam fitter,'” says Rutherford. “That’s the kind of thing that we’re facing, that we get partial locating information.”

City investigators are familiar with databases and electronic gumshoe strategies for finding Bob’s last name and phone number, so he can be notified and get tested.

The goal is to train enough contact tracers to serve all 58 counties in California, but the state is leaving it up to each county to roll out the program and handle the specifics, such as what kind of support services to offer people asked to self-quarantine.

In San Francisco, when people who may be infectious are asked to stay home, contact tracers refer them to get tested, offer them free cleaning supplies and help with grocery and medication deliveries. If they can’t isolate themselves safely from other family members in their home, residents have the option of staying in a city-funded hotel room.

San Francisco is also planning to launch a program to help replace two weeks of lost income, up to $1,200, for people who test positive but don’t have a job with paid sick leave or cannot access unemployment insurance benefits.

South of San Francisco, in Santa Clara County, where the first COVID-19 cases in the U.S. were identified, health officials have struggled to recruit enough librarians and other county employees to become contact tracers. They are now asking for 800 volunteers from the community to meet their goal of building a 1,000-person case investigation and contact tracing team, with an emphasis on volunteers who can speak other languages, particularly Spanish and Vietnamese.

In San Francisco, some staffers from the city attorney’s office have been told they will eventually go back to their regular jobs part time and continue doing contact tracing part time. Librarian Lisa Fagundes has been doing four 4-hour contact tracing shifts per week.

“It’s something that I feel like I could do for the rest of the year, if needed, then when the library starts ramping up, I could do both,” she says. “But, I think that the library will not be ramping up to full service anytime soon, because it’s not an essential service – as much as we may disagree.”

Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/06/14/874088597/as-california-trains-20-000-contact-tracers-librarians-and-tax-assessors-step-up?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news

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Google Assistant’s driving mode for Android is nearly ready, one year later

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Google Assistant driving mode on Android
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Google promised an Assistant driving mode for phones would arrive in mid-2019, but that clearly didn’t happen — over a year passed without any sign of it. It appears to be ready, though. XDA-Developers has discovered (via Android Police) that Google Assistant’s driving mode is at least partially enabled for Android users. The interface has changed considerably from the I/O 2019 demo you see above, but the concept remains the same with large buttons and text that let you chat, message and play music while keeping your driving distractions to a minimum.

The rollout appears to be server-side, and might be part of a test. It’s not attached to any particular versions of Google’s Maps or search apps, and also works on a variety of devices. Your access might depend on your account.

We’ve asked Google for comment.

It’s rare for Google to have Android feature delays this long, and it’s not certain what prompted the extended wait. However, the redesign suggests that Google wasn’t completely satisfied with the Assistant driving mode it showed at I/O. Whatever the reasoning, this gives you one more way to handle common tasks during your trips.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/google-assistant-driving-mode-215249421.html

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Cloud leak exposed sensitive data from over 200,000 voicemails

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Some data leaks contain more sensitive info than most. Security researcher Bob Diachenko and Comparitech discovered (via Threatpost) that Broadvoice, a cloud VoIP provider for businesses, left over 350 million records exposed online in an unprotected cluster, including 2 million voicemail records with 200,000 transcripts. Many of those transcripts included sensitive data, and not just common elements like names and phone numbers — medical conditions, mortgages and insurance policies were all left open.

The largest general data collection, 275 million records, typically included full names, phone numbers, and cities.

The company told Comparitech that the data had been stored on September 28th and was locked down October 2nd, a day after Diachenko notified Broadvoice. There hasn’t been evidence of “misuse” so far, the company said. Marketing VP Rebecca Rosen told Threatpost that it believed “less than 10,000” businesses were impacted, although that doesn’t say how many of those companies’ customers were at risk.

The practical damage appears to have been limited as a result. Even so, this illustrates the dangers of insecure data. The wrong decision can expose vast amounts of info, and it can only take a subset of that data to create serious problems.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/broadvoice-voicemail-data-leak-211913573.html

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Startups

VCs reload ahead of the election as unicorns power ahead

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This is The TechCrunch Exchange, a newsletter that goes out on Saturdays, based on the column of the same name. You can sign up for the email here.

It was an active week in the technology world broadly, with big news from Facebook and Twitter and Apple. But past the headline-grabbing noise, there was a steady drumbeat of bullish news for unicorns, or private companies worth $1 billion or more.

A bullish week for unicorns

The Exchange spent a good chunk of the week looking into different stories from unicorns, or companies that will soon fit the bill, and it’s surprising to see how much positive financial news there was on tap even past what we got to write about.

Databricks, for example, disclosed a grip of financial data to TechCrunch ahead of regular publication, including the fact that it grew its annual run rate (not ARR) to $350 million by the end of Q3 2020, up from $200 million in Q2 2019. It’s essentially IPO ready, but is not hurrying to the public markets.

Sticking to our theme, Calm wants more money for a huge new valuation, perhaps as high as $2.2 billion which is not a surprise. That’s more good unicorn news. As was the report that “India’s Razorpay [became a] unicorn after its new $100 million funding round” that came out this week.

Razorpay is only one of a number of Indian startups that have become unicorns during COVID-19. (And here’s another digest out this week concerning a half-dozen startups that became unicorns “amidst the pandemic.”)

There was enough good unicorn news lately that we’ve lost track of it all. Things like Seismic raising $92 million, pushing its valuation up to $1.6 billion from a few weeks ago. How did that get lost in the mix?

All this matters because while the IPO market has captured much attention in the last quarter or so, the unicorn world has not sat still. Indeed, it feels that unicorn VC activity is the highest we’ve seen since 2019.

And, as we’ll see in just a moment, the grist for the unicorn mill is getting refilled as we speak. So, expect more of the same until something material breaks our current investing and exit pattern.

Market Notes

What do unicorns eat? Cash. And many, many VCs raised cash in the last seven days.

A partial list follows. It could be that investors are looking to lock in new funds before the election and whatever chaos may ensue. So, in no particular order, here’s who is newly flush:

All that capital needs to go to work, which means lots more rounds for many, many startups. The Exchange also caught up with a somewhat new firm this week: Race Capital. Helmed by Alfred Chuang, formerly or BEA who is an angel investor now in charge of his own fund, the firm has $50 million to invest.

Sticking to private investments into startups for the moment, quite a lot happened this week that we need to know more about. Like API-powered Argyle raising $20 million from Bain Capital Ventures for what FinLedger calls “unlocking and democratizing access to employment records.” TechCrunch is currently tracking the progress of API-led startups.

On the fintech side of things, M1 Finance raised $45 million for its consumer fintech platform in a Series C, while another roboadvisor, Wealthsimple, raised $87 million, becoming a unicorn at the same time. And while we’re in the fintech bucket, Stripe dropped $200 million this week for Nigerian startup Paystack. We need to pay more attention to the African startup scene. On the smaller end of fintech, Alpaca raised $10 million more to help other companies become Robinhood.

A few other notes before we change tack. Kahoot raised $215 million due to a boom in remote education, another trend that is inescapable in 2020 as part of the larger edtech boom (our own Natasha Mascarenhas has more).

Turning from the private market to the public, we have to touch on SPACs for just a moment. The Exchange got on the phone this week with Toby Russell from Shift, which is now a public company, trading after it merged with a SPAC, namely Insurance Acquisition Corp. Early trading is only going so well, but the CEO outlined for us precisely why he pursued a SPAC, which was actually interesting:

  • Shift could have gone public via an IPO, Russell said, but prioritized a SPAC-led debut because his firm wanted to optimize for a capital raise to keep the company growing.
  • How so? The private investment in public equity (PIPE) that the SPAC option came with ensured that Shift would have hundreds of millions in cash.
  • Shift also wanted to minimize what the CEO described as market risk. A SPAC deal could happen regardless of what the broader markets were up to. And as the company made the choice to debut via a SPAC in April, some caution, we reckon, may have made some sense.

So now Shift is public and newly capitalized. Let’s see what happens to its shares as it gets into the groove of reporting quarterly. (Obviously, if it flounders, it’s a bad mark for SPACs, but, conversely, successful trading could lead to a bit more momentum to SPAC-mageddon.)

A few more things and we’re done. Unicorn exits had a good week. First, Datto’s IPO continues to move forward. It set an initial price this week, which could value it above $4 billion. Also this week, Roblox announced that it has filed to go public, albeit privately. It’s worth billions as well. And finally, DoubleVerify is looking to go public for as much as $5 billion early next year.

Not all liquidity comes via the public markets, as we saw this week’s Twilio purchase of Segment, a deal that The Exchange dug into to find out if it was well-priced or not.

Various and Sundry

We’re running long naturally, so here are just a few quick things to add to your weekend mental tea-and-coffee reading!

Next week we are digging more deeply into Q3 venture capital data, a foretaste of which you can find here, regarding female founders, a topic that we returned to Friday in more depth.

Alex

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/10/17/vcs-reload-ahead-of-the-election-as-unicorns-power-ahead/

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