Microsoft and Facebook vet leads nonprofit making software to improve COVID-19 rapid tests

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Most of the Audere team, gathered together in pre-COVID times. (Audere Photo)

A Seattle-based nonprofit launched to provide digital health solutions for poorer countries is applying its expertise to help with COVID-19 testing.

Audere is building software for administering rapid result COVID tests that can be integrated into products being developed by U.S. manufacturers that use saliva or nasal swab samples.

“There is a critical need for rapid testing,” said Philip Su, CEO and founder of Audere. People are increasingly realizing that the widespread distribution of a vaccine is still many months away. The availability of accurate, inexpensive tests that provide results in minutes can help control the spread of the virus in the meantime, Su said.

Philip Su, Audere CEO and founder. (Audere Photo)

The tests — known generally as rapid diagnostic tests or RDTs — can have high rates of failure, though the basic concept is simple. Imagine a home pregnancy test, as an example. A liquid sample is applied to a testing device, the fluid travels across the testing material and triggers a chemical reaction if a target disease or hormone is present. That reaction is visible as a colored bar or other shape.

In the past 20 years, the tests have grown in popularity, particularly as tools used in low- and middle-income countries for detecting HIV and malaria. They can be administered in clinics by providers with limited medical expertise or by people at home.

The tests “are simple, easy to use, affordable and they’re stable,” said Roger Peck, a senior program officer in diagnostics at PATH, a longstanding global health nonprofit not affiliated with the project. “They’re becoming more and more commonplace, and really accepted by healthcare workers.”

But they’re not fail-proof. Studies show that the tests can give inaccurate results when people take the

Slack tests video sharing and audio-only channels to connect remote workers

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Slack is working on a set of experimental features, like the ability to share short videos and make audio-only channels team members can drop into for casual conversations. Asynchronous video updates may appear at the top of channels and resemble the short videos or Stories made popular by Snapchat and copied by Facebook apps. LinkedIn introduced short videos like Stories for its workplace social network in the U.S. last month.

“Everybody has to work together. There’s a lot of information you have to get over the wire really quickly, and sometimes writing all of that out can take a lot more time than just taking a quick video, putting it in a channel. And then your colleagues can just watch those videos maybe with their morning coffee or doing the dishes or some other time when they don’t have the exact intensity of attention that you would need for reading a large text update,” Slack director of product Jaime DeLanghe told VentureBeat in a phone interview.

She said the new features are designed to help team members who are working remotely combat loneliness and isolation. DeLanghe added that long text messages don’t meet the current need to build community in the workplace. The experimental features being tested will be introduced today at the annual Slack Frontiers developer conference.

Today’s announcements follow a series of Slack outages Monday.

Slack launched Workflow Builder last year to give users quick ways to customize apps, so you can for example add a line to a Google Sheet document if a specific action is initiated. DeLanghe said 25 million workflow builder tasks have been created since launch last year, primarily by nontechnical workers. Updates out today give teams and businesses more ways to automate workflows and integrate apps like Google Sheets, Jira, and PagerDuty.

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The Technology 202: Trump’s ‘Don’t be afraid of Covid’ post tests Facebook and Twitter

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From Lena Wen, a visiting professor at George Washington University and emergency room doctor:

And former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden:

The companies’ hands-off approach to Trump’s posts undermines their longstanding promises to crack down on specific kinds of coronavirus misinformation.

Twitter and Facebook have promised to be vigilant about coronavirus-related posts that could pose a risk to people’s health or well-being. Trump’s posts were viewed by millions on both services, even as users warned they could lead to a false sense of security that might endanger people’s lives. 

Trump’s initial “Don’t be afraid” tweet garnered more than 275,000 retweets and more than 556,000 likes. On Facebook, the post was liked at least 1.2 million times and shared more than 100,000 times. 

Facebook and Instagram’s policies state the companies will remove covid-19 misinformation “that could lead to imminent physical harm.” Twitter meanwhile says it will remove tweets that have “a clear call to action that could directly pose a risk to people’s  health or well-being.” The companies have typically taken action against specific things that could cause people immediate harm, such as actively encouraging a lack of social distancing or suggesting drinking bleach cures the virus.  

But their policies are inconsistently applied, especially when it comes to the president. Both Twitter and Facebook did not respond to multiple requests for an on-the-record comment, despite repeated promises to be transparent about content moderation decisions. 

Communications experts called on the platforms to take down the posts. Mike Ananny, an associate professor at University of Southern California Annenberg, said this should be an “easy test.”

The lack of action could signal a softness to acting on other misinformation in the pre-election runup.

The coronavirus pandemic is the defining issue of the 2020 election, especially following Trump’s diagnosis. Trump is

Technique could increase sensitivity of nasal swab tests up to tenfold through simple software updates — ScienceDaily

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A multidisciplinary research team at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed a way to increase the sensitivity of the primary test used to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. Applying their findings to computerized test equipment could improve our ability to identify people who are infected but do not exhibit symptoms.

The team’s results, published in the scientific journal Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, describe a mathematical technique for perceiving comparatively faint signals in diagnostic test data that indicate the presence of the virus. These signals can escape detection when the number of viral particles found in a patient’s nasal swab test sample is low. The team’s method helps a modest signal stand out more clearly.

“Applying our technique could make the swab test up to 10 times more sensitive,” said Paul Patrone, a NIST physicist and a co-author on the team’s paper. “It could potentially spot more people who are carrying the virus but whose viral count is too low for the current test to give a positive result.”

The researchers’ findings prove that the data from a positive test, when expressed in graphical form, takes on a recognizable shape that is always the same. Just as a fingerprint identifies a person, the shape is unique to this type of test. Only the shape’s position, and importantly, its size, differ when graphed, varying with the quantity of viral particles that exist in the sample.

While it was known previously that the shape’s position could vary, the team learned that its size can vary as well. Reprogramming test equipment to recognize this shape, regardless of size or location, is the key to improving test sensitivity.

The swab test employs a lab technique called quantitative polymerase chain reaction, or qPCR, to detect the genetic material carried

Wall Street closes sharply lower as Trump tests positive for coronavirus

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stocks closed lower on Friday as news that U.S. President Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19 put investors in a risk-off mood and added to mounting uncertainties surrounding the looming election.

Tech shares weighed heaviest on the indexes, but the blue-chip Dow’s losses were mitigated by gains in economically sensitive cyclical stocks.

Despite Friday’s sell-off, the S&P and the Nasdaq both gained 1.5% on the week, while the Dow ended the session 1.9% higher than last Friday’s close.

Trump tweeted late Thursday that he had contracted the coronavirus and would be placed under quarantine, compounding the unknowns for an already volatile market.

But stocks pared losses after the White House provided assurances that Trump, while experiencing mild symptoms, is not incapacitated.

“This injects further uncertainty into the outcome of the election,” said Roberto Perli, head of global policy research at Cornerstone Macro in Washington. “My read is that markets have demonstrated an aversion of late especially to uncertainty, not so much to one or the other candidate winning.”

Equities also got a brief boost after U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement that an agreement to provide another $25 billion in government assistance to the airline industry was “imminent.”

“Markets are also paying attention to the likelihood that another stimulus package will pass soon,” Perli added. “If that happens it could offset at least in part the uncertainty generated by the COVID news.”

House Democrats passed a $2.2 trillion fiscal aid package on Thursday, but the bill is unlikely to be approved in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The White House is lit before dawn after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he and U.S. first lady Melania Trump have both tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Washington, U.S., October 2, 2020. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts