Tech Companies Offer Services, Lend Support to Relieve Coronavirus Impacts

By: Lee Rickwood

April 20, 2020

The list of companies and individuals stepping up to help relieve the impacts of the coronavirus in Canada is growing longer every day.

It shows they’re sharing physical resources, creating virtual communities, offering free or discounted services, and banding together in support of frontline health care workers, isolated individuals, small businesses as well as consumers and end-users.

Dominating the list is the pressing need for personal protective equipment (PPE): the face masks and shields, the gowns and gloves worn by medical professionals. Among the many initiatives to correct this life-threatening shortage (and eventually get protective gear to everyone who wants or needs it, above and beyond frontline workers), the Shielding Heroes campaign is delivering its first batch of 300 Health Canada-approved face shields to hospitals in the Ottawa area.

man wearing face shield, mask, hospital gown

HP Canada is part of a made-in-Ontario solution that will supply Ottawa and surrounding communities with 1,800 face shields per week, using HP’s industrial 3D printer capabilities. Image from HP Canada.

HP Canada is part of the made-in-Ontario solution that will supply Ottawa and surrounding communities with 1,800 face shields a week, using HP’s industrial 3D printer capabilities. HP is helping produce other PPE and it is offering downloadable design specs for 3D masks, among other printable medical devices.

It began with a heartfelt appeal by Dr. Anna-Theresa Lobos, the Program Director for Critical Care at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (a major children’s hospital and university teaching hospital in Ottawa), who identified the looming shortage of PPE for frontline health workers. Ottawa business leader Darcy Walsh, Brendan Bell, a retired NHL player, Danielle Smith of the Ottawa Senators Foundation (donations can be made on its website) and HP Canada’s President & CEO Mary Ann Yule were among those who responded.

In addition to HP’s technology contributions, the campaign has so far raised $250,000; the goal is to raise $500,000 to ensure face shields for a least 12 weeks.

I am truly grateful for the incredible teamwork and generosity of the Shielding Heroes campaign,” Dr. Lobos shared when describing the program.“We are truly appreciative of this strong collaboration and commitment to keep us protected. Not only do we thank you, but our patients, friends, families, and community thank you for keeping us safe.”

At the University Health Network in Toronto, employees are collecting old mobile phones, flip phones, and early-model smartphones and giving them to needing patients. The idea is that the phone will give those folks better access to health care (like getting medical test results) and social services (including emergency benefits and financial supports).

female doctor wearing mask holds cellphone

UHN’s Dr. Somers is coordinating efforts to collect old cellphones for patients who need help with connectivity and connection. Image courtesy UHN.

Dr. Andrea Somers and her colleagues in UHN’s Emergency Departments at Toronto General Hospital and Toronto Western Hospital got in touch with Bell Mobility, which donated 150 SIM cards and 50 smartphones, and the “Phone Connect” project was born.

Yet giving free phones to vulnerable people is an idea that stretches far beyond COVID-19. Situations are clearly worse during this pandemic, but for the homeless, for those struggling with mental health or substance use, for those feeling socially isolated even at the best of times, connectivity is crucial and the benefits unbounded:

Dr. Somers noted that about 30 phones have been given out since late March. Recipients, she said, “feel uplifted, dignified, treated like a human being.”

More Maker Initiatives

Toronto artist and motion graphics designer Joshua Ingleby has created a web-based resource that connects local medical and health care equipment makers to those frontline workers who really need them. His online database and mapping tool can be used to make contact between people producing face shields or ear protectors (in small runs up to 100 or so) with health care workers and facilities.

The mapping service could include maker initiatives like the Toronto Emergency Device Accelerator (TEDA), where designing, making and distributing PPE is underway in response to the pandemic.

parts of face masks on table

Efforts are underway at the U of T to coordinate 3D printing and other technology resources to produce critical medical supplies, like face shields and masks. Image courtesy Naveed Khan.

A group of students and faculty at the U of T’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, for example, are producing approved face shields for TEDA. As part of the U of T’s coordinated response to COVID-19, the Daniels faculty has donated its existing stock of gloves and masks and it’s sharing its available fabrication resources with potential research teams on campus.

As described by Richard Sommer, the school’s Dean, the design team is helping to coordinate the safe use of printers and other resources at U of T to produce PPE and other critical medical supplies; it is also developing a library of validated 3D printable and locally manufacturable designs that solve critical issues (including face shields and masks, disposable stethoscopes and ventilator components)

Collaboration and Commitment to the Community Continues

The strong collaboration and commitment efforts on behalf of another community allow people to make contributions to small businesses as a way to help lessen the impact those businesses feel as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new online platform has been developed in Toronto that lets customers continue to support local businesses, such as coffee shops, restaurants and hair salons, even if they are closed due to physical and social distancing guidelines.

webpage shows speciaty store front

Local businesses can visit distantly.ca to set up a free account or they can contact their local Business Improvement Association for assistance. Distantly image.

Local businesses can visit distantly.ca to set up a free account or they can contact their local Business Improvement Association for assistance. Then, Toronto residents who are able can make a secure online donation to help alleviate expenses like rent and payroll.

The platform was developed in partnership with the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA), a non-profit umbrella organization representing more than 40,000 business and property owners, and Digital Main Street, a City and TABIA initiative to help brick and mortar main street businesses open an online presence. Other partners included David McArthur, Enterprise, Totum Life Science, and Migeotte and Migeotte.

Although the site was launched in Toronto, developers say the service will be available for people and businesses across the country.

That Digital Main Street program, the one that helps local businesses develop or expand their online services, is being expanded in this crisis to help businesses use digital and online tools to grow and manage their operations, using everything from websites and social media, e-commerce platforms and data collection and analysis.

It was announced recently that the budget for the program will go from $240,000 to $825,000 this year.

Digital Main Street is also supported by Google, Mastercard, Shopify, and Microsoft.

Cloud-based Apps, Home-based Services Offered

Meanwhile, small businesses that are still working (albeit outside their normal circumstances due to the coronavirus pandemic) now have the opportunity to use, at no cost, a suite of cloud-based business management and communication tools.

software suite application user interface

Small businesses have the opportunity to use, at no cost, Zoho’s suite of cloud-based business management and communication tools. Zoho image.

Zoho, the Chenai-based software development company, is making its Remotely suite available to small businesses here; the suite includes project management, accounting spreadsheets, word processing, business presentation, instant messaging and video conferencing tools, among others.

Zoho says Remotely will be available for free until July 1, 2020 (by which time the company hopes the coronavirus crisis will be over).

The company’s more than 50 business apps are in wide use around the world; interestingly, the company describes how Remotely was developed by its employees in a matter of days while working remotely.

But some needed services cannot be delivered in the cloud; they have to be brought to the door – the customer’s door.

samsung galaxy s20 phones

Samsung has phone, text, and live chat channels that folks can use to arrange the pick-up, repair, and delivery of its devices. Samsung image.

As such, Samsung Canada has announced a new Door to Door service that will support its customers and their service needs during this time. 

Customers who need service for their Samsung phone, tablet or wearable device can make arrangements to have their device collected and to brought back once any needed repairs have been made – with all shipping costs covered.

Samsung has phone, text, and live chat channels to arrange pick-up of Galaxy devices, and as part of the service, Samsung says will disinfect each device under UV-C light. It is also providing remote support to end-users to help set-up each device and to help diagnose any performance issues users may have during this time. Samsung Remote Service enables its technicians to remotely view and control Samsung TVs and smartphones safely, without requiring direct customer contact.

Yet all these companies, individuals, organizations and more are finding ways to make valuable connections even so.

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parts of a face shield shown as math equation

Toronto artist and motion graphics designer Joshua Ingleby has created a web-based resource that connects local medical and health care equipment makers to those frontline workers who really need them. Web graphic Joshua Ingleby.

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WhatsYourTech.ca has more COVID-19 related technology articles you can read; please visit our new dedicated articles listing page.

 

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