Peloton launches an Android TV app

With gyms across the country closed for business, at-home exercise companies like Peloton have found an unexpected opportunity. As the connected fitness company looks to onboard new customers, they’re also expanding platform support, announcing today that they would be bringing their app to Android TV, the OS used by millions of smart TVs.

Peloton announced last month that it would be extending free trials of its $12.99 per month exercise app from 30 days to 90 days because of the pandemic. Peloton has not been unaffected by the virus. Last month, the company shut down its studios to visitors, holding classes with just instructors, while also moving away from in-home deliveries of its connected bike and treadmill.

While Peloton already boasted support for Fire TV, Chromecast and AirPlay, this latest addition should help round out support for users of most new smart TVs. The app is available today in Android TV’s Google Play Store.

If you’re an existing user looking to toss your workouts onto your Android TV screen, you should know that the app won’t support external bluetooth sensors like heart rate monitors or cadence sensors for your non-Peloton bike. The company also recommends running the app on Android OS 6 or later for best performance.

 

CDC is expected to tell Americans to wear cloth masks, save medical masks for health workers

On Thursday, the White House said that it will likely soon adjust previous guidelines that discouraged non-health workers from wearing face masks. The change would be issued as “guidance” from the CDC, but according to the president—who continues to hesitate at exerting federal power during the COVID-19 crisis—it will not be made mandatory.

Supplies of medical-grade masks are still running critically low in many places hard hit—or soon to be hard hit—by the coronavirus. Due to ongoing shortages, the new guidance is expected to concern cloth and non-medical face coverings only.

In Thursday’s White House press briefing, Dr. Deborah Birx, coronavirus task force response coordinator, stressed that the updated guidance was an “additive” protective measure and not meant as a substitute. “When the advisory comes out… if it comes out… it will be an additive piece,” Birx said.

Birx suggested that the White House and CDC hesitated to offer the new mask advice due to concerns that people would relax critical social distancing measures that will prove key to U.S. containment efforts.”We don’t want people to feel like ‘oh i’m wearing a mask, I’m protected and I’m protecting others.'”

As Birx explained the thinking behind the new precaution of cloth masks, Trump offered his own unfounded interpretation of the information. “If people wanted to wear them, they can,” Trump said. “In many cases, the scarf is better, it’s thicker” he added, incorrectly.

The new guidance is expected in the coming days and will come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In memos obtained by the Washington Post, the CDC began considering the cloth mask recommendation due to evidence that people without symptoms are transmitting the virus. A draft copy of the policy states that the CDC “… recommends the community use of cloth masks as an additional public health measure people can take to prevent the spread of virus to those around them.”

On Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti urged residents to cover their faces in public while making a point to stress that N95 and surgical masks go straight to medical workers.

A grassroots effort of crafters is already springing up around the country to create home-sewn masks for health workers unable to get proper PPE and others who want to take the protective measure. Many online resources offer patterns and how-to resources on mask construction and even no-sew methods. New federal recommendations around cloth masks could also provide an opportunity for businesses to offer helpful resources in the fight against COVID-19, as many companies make creative moves to stay afloat.

While mask-wearing is routine even outside of pandemic times in countries like Japan and South Korea, Western countries are generally less comfortable with the practice. Social norms may be compounded by confusing messaging from officials who urged Americans to donate medical masks to health workers at the same time as suggesting the masks do not provide protection against the virus in everyday situations.

“Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeted in late February. “They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”

That messaging may have proved expedient in the earliest days of the crisis as Americans hoarding masks for personal use could worsen an already constricted supply of personal protective equipment for medical personnel.

Cloth masks are less effective than medical masks, but their use, even if imperfect, is better than nothing at helping limit the spread of the virus. In one prescient small 2013 study examining the efficacy of homemade masks in the event of a flu pandemic, researchers recommended cloth masks “be considered only as a last resort… but it would be better than no protection.”

That research, published by Cambridge University Press, found that both homemade cloth masks and traditional surgical masks “significantly” reduced the amount of potentially infectious droplets expelled by the wearer, though surgical masks were three times better for preventing transmission. Because homemade masks are less disposable than medical masks, they should be washed after use to get rid of infectious droplets.

On Thursday, health officials were careful to stress that using a mask does not mean that it’s okay to relax physical distancing measures.

“Just remember it’s not a substitute for everything that we’re asking people to do!” Birx said.

You can now buy AWS’ $99 DeepComposer keyboard

AWS today announced that its DeepComposer keyboard is now available for purchase. And no, DeepComposer isn’t a mechanical keyboard for hackers but a small MIDI keyboard for working with the AWS DeepComposer service that uses AI to create songs based on your input.

First announced at AWS re:Invent 2019, the keyboard created a bit of confusion, in part because Amazon’s announcement almost made it seem like a consumer product. DeepComposer, which also works without the actual hardware keyboard, is more of a learning tool, though, and belongs to the same family of AWS hardware like DeepLens and DeepRacer. It’s meant to teach developers about generative adversarial networks, just like DeepLens and DeepRacer also focus on specific machine learning technologies.

Users play a short melody, either using the hardware keyboard or an on-screen one, and the service then automatically generates a backing track based on your choice of musical style. The results I heard at re:Invent last year were a bit uneven (or worse), but that may have improved by now. But this isn’t a tool for creating the next Top 40 song. It’s simply a learning tool. I’m not sure you need the keyboard to get that learning experience out of it, but if you do, you can now head over to Amazon and buy it.

White House says it is ordering more companies to make ventilators

With national the stockpile’s inventory of life-saving healthcare equipment getting dangerously close to zero, President Trump on Thursday signaled that he will leverage a key national security provision to order additional companies to produce ventilators.

Trump’s reluctance to employ the law known as the Defense Production Act (DPA) has puzzled many as the administration attempts to right the myriad early wrongs that allowed the novel coronavirus to spread within the nation’s borders—an unprecedented modern public health crisis expected to claim as many as 200,000 lives in the U.S.

“Today, I have issued an order under the Defense Production Act to more fully ensure that domestic manufacturers can produce ventilators needed to save American lives,” Trump said in a statement. “My order to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Homeland Security will help domestic manufacturers like General Electric, Hill-Rom, Medtronic, ResMed, Royal Philips, and Vyaire Medical secure the supplies they need to build ventilators needed to defeat the virus.”

The order will enable Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to use “any and all authority available” to steer production efforts.

After much early confusion around the president’s willingness to invoke the DPA without actually putting it to use, Trump appeared to change course and on Friday wielded the law against General Motors which had already announced its intention to start manufacturing ventilators in spite of a lack of federal guidance. That heel-turn came two days after the Trump was poised to announce a deal with GM and ventilator maker Ventec Life Systems to produce up to 80,000 devices. The announcement was reportedly scuttled when the White House and FEMA balked at the effort’s $1 billion price tag.

Trump has repeatedly called the crisis-level demand for ventilators, masks and other medical supplies into question. “I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be,” Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity last week. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators.” The president has also repeatedly questioned the nationwide shortage of N95 masks and other basic health protective gear, suggesting that in New York health facilities are somehow losing the masks or allowing them to be stolen, a false claim for which there is no evidence.

As states still compete for vital life-saving resources, federal orders through the DPA would force any private companies on the receiving end of an order to prioritize federal contracts. The law also allows the federal government to use its muscle to ensure that supply chains are able to produce and provide materials every step of the way. While much has been made of the law’s potency to mobilize supplies in the midst of a national crisis, the Trump administration will likely need to actively manage and coordinate with these newly-tapped manufacturers to see such orders through.

In dragging its feet to issue orders through the DPA, Trump appeared to put full faith in the private sector to step up on their own without a directive from the White House. While some companies indeed did just that, those nascent production efforts are nowhere near meeting demand and distribution issues are not resolved. As the outbreak threatens regions around the nation, many states forge ahead without vital life-saving supplies as the acute health crisis unfolding in New York offers a glimpse of a potentially disastrous near-future.

HBO makes some top shows, movies, and documentaries free to stream on HBO NOW and HBO GO

Giving people even more of a reason to stay home and follow the social distancing measures designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the US, HBO said it would be making 500 hours of programming free to stream over HBO NOW and HBO Go without a subscription starting Friday, April 3.

Shows that audiences can stream include some of the best television shows ever made like The Sopranos and The Wire, and other very good HBO shows like Veep and Six Feet Under.

Movie titles like Pokémon Detective Pikachu, Crazy, Stupid, Love and back catalog gems like (one of my favorite movies of all-time) Empire of the Sun join docu-series including McMillion$ and The Case Against Adnan Syed as free-to-stream offerings as well.

Viewers who want to watch what is inarguably the best show ever made (it’s The Wire) can download the HBO NOW or HBO GO apps or visit HBONOW.com or HBOGO.com.

The network’s distribution partners will also make the shows available to stream for free in the coming days, the company said. This offer marks the first time that HBO has made this amount of programming available for free outside of the paywall on either of its apps, the company said.

The full list of HBO content available to stream without a subscription includes:

  • Ballers (5 Seasons)

  • Barry (2 Seasons)

  • Silicon Valley (6 Seasons)

  • Six Feet Under (5 Seasons)

  • The Sopranos (7 Seasons)

  • Succession (2 Seasons)

  • True Blood (7 Seasons

  • Veep (7 Seasons)

  • The Wire (5 Seasons)

10 Docuseries and Documentaries

  • The Apollo

  • The Case Against Adnan Syed

  • Elvis Presley: The Searcher

  • I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter

  • The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley

  • Jane Fonda in Five Acts

  • McMillion$

  • True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality

  • United Skates

  • We Are the Dream: The Kids of the MLK Oakland Oratorical Fest

20 Warner Bros. Theatricals

  • Arthur

  • Arthur 2: On the Rocks

  • Blinded By the Light

  • The Bridges of Madison County

  • Crazy, Stupid, Love

  • Empire of the Sun

  • Forget Paris

  • Happy Feet Two

  • Isn’t It Romantic?

  • The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

  • Midnight Special

  • My Dog Skip

  • Nancy Drew And The Hidden Staircase

  • Pan

  • Pokémon Detective Pikachu

  • Red Riding Hood

  • Smallfoot

  • Storks

  • Sucker Punch

  • Unknown

Pinterest CEO and a team of leading scientists launch a self-reporting COVID-19 tracking app

There have been a few scattered efforts to leverage crowd-sourced self-reporting of symptoms as a way to potentially predict and chart the progress of COVID-19 across the U.S., and around the world. A new effort looks like the most comprehensive, well-organized and credibly backed yet, however – and it’s been developed in part by Pinterest co-founder and CEO Ben Silbermann.

Silbermann and a team from Pinterest enlisted the help of high school friend, and CRISPR gene-editing pioneer / MIT and Harvard Broad Institute member Dr. Feng Zhang to build what Silbermann termed in a press release a “bridge between citizens and scientists.” The result is the ‘How We Feel’ app that Silbermann developed along with input from Zhang, and a long list of well-regarded public health, computer science, therapeutics, social sincere and medical professors from Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Weill Cornell and more.

How We Feel is a mobile app available for both iOS and Android, which is free to download, and which is designed to make it very easy to self-report whether or not they feel well – and if they’re feeling unwell, what symptoms they’re experiencing. It also asks for information about whether or not you’ve been tested for COVID-19, and whether you’re self-isolation, and for how long. The amount of interaction required is purposely streamlined to make it easy for anyone to contribute daily, and to do so in a minute or less.

The app doesn’t ask for or collect info including name, phone numb or email information. It includes an up-front request that users agree to donate their information, and the data collected will be aggregated and then shared with researchers, public health professionals and doctors, including those who are signed on as collaborators with the project, as well as others (and the project is encouraging collaborators to reach out if interested). Part of the team working on the project are experts in the field of ‘differential privacy,’ and a goal of the endeavor is to ensure that people’s information is used responsibly.

The How We Feel app is, as mentioned, one of a number of similar efforts out there, but this approach has a number of advantages when compared to existing projects. First, it’s a mobile app, whereas some rely on web-based portals that are less convenient for the average consumer, especially when you want continued use over time. Second, they’re motivating use through positive means – Silbermann and his wife Divya will be providing a donated meal to non-profit feeding America for every time a person downloads and uses the app for the first time, up to a maximum of 10 million meals. Finally, it’s already designed in partnership with, and backed by, world-class academic institutions and researchers, and seems best-positioned to be able to get the information it gathers to the greatest number of those in a position to help.

How We Feel is organized as an entirely independent, non-profit organization, and it’s hoping to expand its availability and scientific collaboration globally. It’s an ambitious project, but also one that could be critically important in supplementing testing efforts and other means of tracking the progress and course of the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. While self-reported information on its own is far fro a 100 percent accurate or reliable source, taken in aggregate at scale, it could be a very effective leading indicator of new or emerging viral hotspots, or provide scientific researches with other valuable insights when used in combination with other signals.

U.S. markets shrug off record unemployment numbers as tech shares rise

Despite reports of historic unemployment with roughly 6.6 million Americans filing for unemployment, domestic stocks rose during regular trading today.

One day after grim estimates on the potential death toll from the COVID-19 epidemic in the US sent stocks tumbling and amid a continuing economic fallout from the government’s response to slow the spread of the disease, all three major US indices gained.

Meanwhile, the federal government in the US continues to work on the specifics of how to funnel nearly $2 trillion into the American economy as part of the CARES Act stimulus package. And pharmaceutical and medical device companies are working day and night to develop better diagnostics tools and novel therapies to treat the virus while potential vaccines slowly make their way through the regulatory approval process.

Here’s the tale of the tape:

  • Dow Jones Industrial Average: +469.93, +2.24%
  • S&P 500: +56.40, +2.28%
  • Nasdaq Composite: +126.73, +1.72

The tech-heavy Nasdaq rose the least of the major indices, indicating that the up-day wasn’t as bright for the technology industry. This fact was underscored by a selloff among shares of SaaS and cloud stocks, as measured by the Bessemer cloud index that fell 1.4% on the day. The Nasdaq remains in bear market territory.

After-hours today, shares of Tesla shot higher after the electric car company announced delivery numbers that delighted investors. The volatile company announced 88,400 deliveries for the three-month period, ahead of expectations of 79,900 per FactSet.

Looking ahead, it doesn’t feel like the market has digested the scale of economic impact that the new unemployment claims implies; with employment falling sharply, demand contracting, and economies around the world prioritizing safety over commerce, the world could be in for more than an economic pause, or lull. We may be staring down the first weeks of a depression.

Flagship Pioneering raises $1.1 billion to spend on sustainability and health-focused biotech

Flagship Pioneering, the Boston-based biotech company incubator and holding company, said it has raised $1.1 billion for its Flagship Labs unit.

Flagship, which raised $1 billion back in 2019 for growth stage investment vehicles, develops and operates startups that leverage biotechnology innovation to provide goods and services that improve human health and promote sustainable industries.

“We’re honored to have the strong support of our existing Limited Partners, as well as the interest from a select group of new Limited Partners, to support Flagship’s unique form of company origination during this time of unprecedented economic uncertainty,” said Noubar Afeyan, the founder and chief executive of Flagship Pioneering, in a statement.

In addition to its previous focus on health and sustainability, Flagship will use the new funds to focus on new medicines, artificial intelligence and “health security”, which the company says is “designed to create a range of products and therapies to improve societal health defenses by treating pre-disease states before they escalate,” according to Afeyan.

Flagship companies are already on the forefront of the healthcare industry’s efforts to stop the COVID-19 pandemic. Portfolio company Moderna is one of the companies leading efforts to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus which causes COVID-19.

In the 20 years since its launch, Flagship has 15 wholly owned companies and another 26 growth stage companies among its portfolio of investments.

New companies include: Senda Biosciences, Generate Biomedicines, Tessera Therapeutics, Cellarity, Cygnal Therapeutics, Ring Therapeutics, and Integral Health. Growth Companies developed or backed by Flagship include Ohana Biosciences, Kintai Therapeutics, and Repertoire Immune Medicines.

Two of the companies in the Flagship Labs portfolio have already had initial public offerings in the past two years, the company said. Kaleido Biosciences and Axcella Health raised public capital in 2019 and Moderna Therapeutics conducted a $575 million secondary offering earlier this year.

Henry Ford Health System to conduct first large U.S. study of hydroxychloroquine’s ability to prevent COVID-19

Despite false assertions by the President to the contrary, any potential treatments to counter or prevent COVID-19 are still only at the stage of early investigations, which include one-off treatment with special individual case authorizations, and small-scale clinical examinations. Nothing so far has approached the level of scrutiny needed to actually say anything definitively about their actual ability to treat COVID-19 or the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes it, but the first large-scale U.S. clinical study for one treatment candidate is seeking volunteers and looking to get underway.

The study will be conducted by the Henry Ford Health System, which is seeking 3,000 volunteers from healthcare and first responder working environments. Depending on response, the researchers behind the study are looking to begin as early as next week. Study lead researcher Dr. William W. O’Neil said in a press release announcing the study that the goal is to seek a more definitive scientific answer to the question of whether or not hydroxychloroquine might work as a preventative medicine to help protect medical frontline workers with greater risk exposure from contracting the coronavirus.

Hydroxychloroquine (as well as chloroquine) has been in the spotlight as a potential COVID-19 treatment due mostly to repeated name-check that President Trump has given the drug during his daily White House coronavirus task force press briefings. Trump has gone too far in suggesting that the drug, which is commonly used both as an anti-malarial, and in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, could be an effective treatment and should be thrust into use. At one point, he claimed that he FDA had granted an emergency approval for its use as a COVID-19 treatment, but Dr. Anthony Fauci clarified that it was not approved for that use, and that clinical studies still need to be performed to evaluate how it works in addressing COVID-19.

Studies thus far around hydroxychloroquine have been small-scale, as mentioned. One, conducted by researchers in France, produced results that indicated the drug was effective in treating those already infected, particularly when paired with a specific antibiotic. Another, more recent study from China showed that there was no difference in terms of viral duration or symptoms when comparing treatment with hydroxychloroquine with treatment using standard anti-viral drugs, already a common practice in addressing cases of the disease.

This Henry Ford study looks like it could provide better answers to some of these questions around the drug, though the specific approach of seeking to validate prophylactic (preventative) use will mean treatment-oriented applications will still have to be studied separately. The design of the study will be a true blind study, with participants split into three groups that receive “unidentified, specific pills” (possibly anti-virals or some equivalent); hydroxychloroquine; or placebo pills, respectively. They won’t know which they’ve received, and they’ll be contacted by researchers running the study weekly, then in-person both at week four and week eight to determine if they have any symptoms of COVID-19, or any side effects from the medication. They’ll get regular blood draws, and the results will be compared to see if there’s any difference between each cohort in terms of how many contracted COVID-19.

These are frontline healthcare workers, so in theory they should unfortunately be at high risk of contracting the disease. That, plus the large sample size, should provide results that provide much clearer answers about hydroxychloroquine’s potential preventative effects. Even after the study is complete, other competing large-scale trials would ideally be run to prove out or cast doubt on these results, but we’ll be a better position than we are now to say anything scientifically valid about the drug and its use.

Instacart to provide shoppers with face masks, hand sanitizers and thermometers

Instacart will start providing health and safety kits to its full-service shoppers. These kits will include a face mask, hand sanitizer and a thermometer, the company announced today.

The kits will be available for free to shoppers starting next week. Shoppers, according to Instacart, will be able to request a kit by registering with their Instacart shopper email address. In order to keep up with demand, Instacart will update its inventory daily. For in-store shoppers, Instacart will bring the face masks to shoppers at their respective retail locations.

“Our teams have been working around the clock over the last few weeks to proactively secure personal protective equipment like hand sanitizer and face masks, without taking away valuable resources from healthcare workers given inventory delays and global supply scarcity,” Instacart President Nilam Ganenthiran said in a statement. “We want to provide customers with an essential service they can rely on to get their groceries and household goods, while also offering safe and flexible earnings opportunities to Instacart personal shoppers. As COVID-19 evolves, today’s health and safety solutions will be tomorrow’s table stakes, and our teams are working quickly to introduce new services and features to ensure our shopper community is supported as this situation unfolds.”

This announcement comes amid worker strikes led by the folks over at Gig Workers Collective. Last Friday, a group of Instacart shoppers announced plans to strike and not return to work until the company meets its demands. Those demands were for Instacart to provide personal protective equipment at no cost to workers and hazard pay of $5 extra per order, change the default tip to 10%, extend the sick pay policy to those who have a doctor’s note for a pre-existing condition that may make them more susceptible to contracting the virus and extend the deadline to qualify for those benefits beyond April 8th.

Instacart has since extended that deadline and changed the default tip to a customer’s last tip, but shoppers say that’s not enough. In a Medium post, workers called Instacart’s response “insulting” and “a sick joke.

“It’s abhorrent that it took this long for them to act, but on the bright side, it shows that a strike will work to change their behavior,” the group wrote in a Medium post.

Instacart is not the only company stepping up its safety protocols. Earlier today, Amazon said it would start providing surgical masks for its warehouse workers and employees at Whole Foods.