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What’s New in Civic Tech: L.A. Launches Rapid Testing Pilot

Plus, Colorado’s contract tracing app is seeing large buy-in from users within the state, the U.S. Digital Response publishes a social media playbook for government, and how to map election turnout change data.

by / October 29, 2020
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti attends the launch of the rapid antigen testing program. Courtesy City of Los Angeles (Flickr)

Los Angeles — both the city government and the county government of the same name — has joined with the University of Southern California on a pilot project for rapid COVID-19 testing.

The pilot will focus on coronavirus rapid antigen tests among school-aged children as well as first responders, and this initial pilot study will be multi-pronged, with an aim of determining the best possible way to use inexpensive tests in the service of supporting new efforts to reopen public spaces. 

In an announcement for the effort, stakeholders noted that “rapid tests have the potential to quickly alert people who are contagious and need to isolate, thereby stopping the chain of transmission.” Organizers also noted in the announcement that this collaborative effort makes Los Angeles one of the first major metro areas in the country to launch this type of pilot to learn about the feasibility of large-scale rapid tests, applied to people experiencing symptoms as well as people who are asymptomatic. 

The first phase of this effort actually kicked off last week with firefighters from the Los Angeles Fire Department getting three separate types of COVID-19 tests at city testing sites. These tests include a self-administered rapid antigen test, a lab-based PCR test, and, last, an antibody test that can identify whether someone has previously been infected. In total, the project has a goal of enrolling as many as 1,000 first responders in order to gain insight as to how each of these types of tests performs so that the best can be given to essential workers on the front lines of the ongoing crisis. 

Colorado’s Contact Tracing App Sees Large Number of Users

In other testing and contact tracing tech news, a related app built by Colorado is seeing major usage in that state, according to local news reports.

This week Colorado officials reported that since Sunday more than 564,000 residents of the state have enabled and activated an app that can alert them when they are exposed to COVID-19. In less than a week’s time, this means that roughly 15 percent of all smartphone owners in the state have embraced this capability. Activating the app is strictly voluntary. This number alone, researchers say, can reduce new infections by as much as 8 percent and deaths from the virus by roughly 6 percent.

The app — dubbed CO Exposure Notifications — does exactly what its name suggests, notifying users who are exposed to the coronavirus. It was developed as part of a collaboration between Google and Colorado, with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment working on it. 

Awareness of the new app was spread via a push notification that went to all Android and Apple smartphone users. In order to protect privacy, the app itself is not capable of tracking user location.

U.S. Digital Response Publishes a Social Media Playbook for Government

U.S. Digital Response — a national civic tech effort that sprung up after the outbreak of the pandemic — has published a social media playbook for government. 

As the website for the playbook notes, the goal of it is to help government and government-adjacent groups “deploy trusted information to your community across social media about topics like COVID-19, voter information, local emergencies and more with this guided exercise in social media management.”

This is perhaps especially relevant at the moment given that information around the virus has become central to the ongoing presidential campaign, ranking as one of the clearest differentiations between the two major party candidates. In fact, a chief point of disagreement between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden at the last debate was whether the government needs to do more to help stop the spread of the outbreak. The vast majority of major news outlets this week have been reporting rising infection rates across 40 states, with the Midwest and Western states seeing major spikes.

The social media playbook distills some of the best practices from scientists with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the World Health Organization along with those from governments that have had success combating the virus including cities like Boston and New York, as well as countries like New Zealand. Agencies that sign up for the playbook program will have U.S. Digital Response volunteers guiding them through an analysis of their own social media channels and content so they can gain a better understanding of existing social media strategies, which is a key to ultimately improving them.

Interested departments can find more info as well as a place to sign up on the social media playbook website.

How to Map Changes in Voter Turnout Data for the Election

Finally, Esri’s ArcGIS blog this week has an entry that might prove especially useful in the days to come for civic technologists, dubbed "Using Bivariate Colors to Map Change in Election Turnout."

The blog’s advice, of course, is specifically tailored to users of Esri’s ArcGIS Pro. The blog includes practical advice, as well as examples of data visualizations and maps that use the bivariate color system to convey turnout changes between the 2012 and 2016 elections. It’s all very useful, especially for those with an eye toward starting the work of doing the same for any changes between 2016 and the upcoming 2020 vote.

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Zack Quaintance Assistant News Editor

Zack Quaintance is the assistant news editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.

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