After the pandemic was declared in March, Intel announced the Pandemic Response Technology Initiative to help combat COVID-19. The company targeted investments of $50 million to accelerate access to technology that can combat current and future pandemics through scientific discovery, enable remote learning for students and help apply technology to aid in economic recovery.
To make this happen, Intel works closely with organizations, cities and communities around the globe.
Houston has been hit especially hard by coronavirus. In July, reports showed a test positivity rate of almost 25% for Harris County, Houston’s home. At the time, that was the 10th highest in the U.S. for confirmed cases. The city with 2 million people – and that doesn’t count an additional 5 million people living in its metro area – is among the most diverse in the U.S. and one of the largest geographically, spanning 640 square miles. With the coronavirus disproportionately affecting minorities, the diversity and sheer size of the city put its residents at risk.
To fight COVID-19, Houston’s leaders have created a holistic approach across focus areas: healthcare, education and smart cities.
“We can’t do this without a strong investment in technology,” says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner of the coronavirus fight.
Remote Care and Monitoring for Healthcare
Intel is working with Medical Informatics Corp. (MIC), an Intel Capital Portfolio company based in Houston. MIC’s goal is to give medical professionals access to the quality data they need to deliver quality remote care so they are protected from exposure to infection through clinical distancing, are able to scale the capacity of critical care and non-critical care beds and staff, and can collect and analyze that data to get ahead of patient deterioration. To achieve these goals, MIC’s FDA-cleared Sickbay platform collects patient data across disparate bedside devices in ICUs and other care areas to enable flexible, vendor-agnostic remote monitoring and patient-centered analytics at scale.
The solution gives hospitals hit hard by the coronavirus the ability to remotely tap healthcare workers from other places by giving doctors, nurses and other care providers access to collected patient data from any enabled PC, tablet or phone, and turn traditional hospital rooms into makeshift virtual intensive care units or low acuity infectious disease units using software run on Intel® architecture.
Collected data is used by medical professionals to both monitor patient conditions and proactively consider larger trends. Heather Hitchcock, MIC’s chief commercial officer, says the technology will have a major impact during and after the coronavirus pandemic.
“While hospitals need help now with getting access to data remotely to monitor their patients, they don’t want just a short-term fix,” she said. “They are looking to redefine and simplify their architecture, reduce costs, and increase and protect revenue, not just for COVID-19, but to change the practice of medicine, realize the vision of AI, and create the foundation for a new standard of data-driven medicine and patient-centered care.”
Intel and MIC have launched the Scale to Serve Program to help 100 hospitals rapidly install the Sickbay platform, funding the implementation process and waiving the first 90 days of subscription costs. Qualifying hospitals can skip months of procurement work and set up easily. Once hospitals adopt the platform, it can be deployed in as little as a week and be rapidly scaled as needed.
In advance of the pandemic, Houston Methodist Hospital had set up their virtual ICU. Within days they were able to add hundreds of additional intensive care beds across units and are now creating a low acuity command center and deterioration scores to support second and future waves with the help of a Sickbay installation. (To learn more about Intel’s work with MIC, visit Intel.com.)
Student Connectivity across the Digital Divide
Houston’s 48 school districts are navigating the coronavirus pandemic and the many challenges that come along with a rapid transition to distance learning. With 20% of Houston students at or below the poverty line, the digital divide was — and is — more present than ever.
Gabrielle Rowe, whom the Mayor tapped to run Houston’s student connectivity efforts, emphasizes the importance of technology and innovation in building a resilient Houston.
“We have to do it all, otherwise we will be measured by our weakest link. Our Black, Latinx and under-resourced citizens haven’t been pushed to the fringe; they’ve been pushed off a cliff,” she said. “The ladder that will bring them back up the cliff is technology. Without that there is nothing.”
“To be a resilient city, we have to look at all of our citizens,” Rowe said. It isn’t really a technology issue, she says, but an equity and affordability issue. Giving a device to someone doesn’t necessarily guarantee connectivity to services and the community as a whole.
The city of Houston, working closely with Intel, Microsoft and T-Mobile, is working to bridge the gap between students and their education, as 25% of students in Texas don’t have access to technology. The support provided by Intel is helping the city understand educational and community needs to bring digital skills and training to students and communities. Then, working with Intel’s strategic partners, the students and their families who qualify receive T-Mobile internet connectivity, providing students and their families connectivity to the greater community and resources.
Juliet Stipeche, director of the mayor’s office of education, explains that technology empowers not only the students but their families.
“Technology is a lifeline during this pandemic, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before,” Stipeche said. “If there’s a silver lining from this crisis, it’s compelled collaboration to formulate creative and transformative solutions to bridge the tech divide. Digital equity is critical to the future of Houston’s education, workforce and economy. And enhancing the lives of all Houstonian’s drives us in this endeavor.”
A Safe Return Depends on Smart City Tech
As the economy reopens and we get back to all the places that people gather – offices, movie theatres, airports, universities – smart city technologies will play a critical role in ensuring a safe return. Houston is actively planning for a safer return to what Sameer Sharma, Intel’s general manager of Smart Cities & Transportation, describes as “Smart Spaces.”
In 2019, Intel and the City of Houston established a partnership to bring smart-city solutions to life through The ION Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator. Jesse Bounds, director of the mayor’s office of innovation, says Houston’s resilience plan was in the works prior to COVID-19, however, now the city faces a new set of challenges. The city is turning to partners — including startups, Intel and others — to help respond to COVID-19 and build a more resilient Houston.
One startup that came from the Intel-supported accelerator program is Water Lens, which offers next-generation genetic water testing technology, including a rapid test for COVID-19. Water Lens is currently working on a pilot with the city to test for COVID-19 in wastewater to help determine the community infection rate.
Mayor Turner explains that with many residents working from home, the billions of dollars that would normally be spent on capital improvements to infrastructure around the city can be invested in technology that will go into Smart Spaces – everything from fever checks to contact tracing and robotics – to create a more resilient, sustainable and operational city.
Turner emphasizes the importance of using technology to keep front-line workers – medical professionals, grocery workers, transit workers, waste management workers and others – safe and ensure that they don’t have to forfeit their health for the sake of their jobs. Bounds explains that as the city opens, the need for smart safety precautions will be critical.
Though the work is far from over, the city of Houston is confident in its ability to keep on fighting.
“We are technologically up for the challenge,” Rowe said.