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Go read this Texas Monthly piece on how HEB prepped for the coronavirus outbreak

In February, while the US government was still dithering and downplaying the potential impact that the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 might have, San Antonio-based grocery chain HEB was already running pandemic simulations and adapting the plans that helped it respond to the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.

Yes, that’s correct: a regional grocery chain arguably did better advance planning than our government did and is now better equipped to handle the coronavirus pandemic that has left more than 80,000 Americans infected so far. Texas Monthly has the story about how HEB management used its experience with natural disasters to get ahead of the outbreak. Justen Noakes, director of emergency preparedness, explained:

“So when did we start looking at the coronavirus? Probably the second week in January, when it started popping up in China as an issue. We’ve got interests in the global sourcing world, and we started getting reports on how it was impacting things in China, so we started watching it closely at that point. We decided to take a harder look at how to implement the plan we developed in 2009 into a tabletop exercise. On February 2, we dusted it off and compared the plan we had versus what we were seeing in China, and started working on step one pretty heavily.”

Yes, February 2nd, which is even before President Trump’s statement that the virus would “disappear like a miracle.” It saw what was coming, so HEB starting putting restrictions on purchases before panic shopping had gone into full swing in most areas:

The company began limiting the amounts of certain products customers were able to purchase in early March; extended its sick leave policy and implemented social distancing measures quickly; limited its hours to keep up with the needs of its stockers; added a coronavirus hotline for employees in need of assistance or information; and gave employees a $2 an hour raise on March 16, as those workers, many of whom are interacting with the public daily during this pandemic, began agitating for hazard pay.

In addition to its advance planning for H1N1 a decade ago, HEB drew on its experience dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, according to Texas Monthly. One important lesson, Noakes said, was paying attention to what its customers wanted and being transparent about what it was doing:

“The most important lesson for us is to listen to what’s going on in our stores. When we started seeing the N95 masks and the sanitizers, we took that as a good sign that our customers were concerned about what was going on, and that’s what really spurred us to activate our program. That’s the biggest one—to make sure that we’re really paying attention to what our customer does, and to actually respond to it. As we continue to maneuver our supply chain and support our stores during COVID-19, we’ll bring some lessons learned and tools out of that into hurricane season.”

The story is really an interesting dive into how a well-run business (cough) can prepare for an unprecedented situation and take lessons from what’s worked well in the past. Bonus: a mariachi band showed up randomly to play at an HEB store (it is Texas, after all).



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General Motors will make ventilators to help fight the worst cases of COVID-19

General Motors will manufacture ventilators that are crucial to fighting the worst symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. One thousand members of the automaker’s unionized workforce will build the equipment for ventilator company Ventec Life Systems at GM’s factory in Kokomo, Indiana, which has been shut down during the pandemic. The goal is to eventually make 10,000 ventilators per month, according to GM and Ventec, but the companies didn’t say how long it would take to reach that output.

GM will also start making surgical masks, a critical component for health care workers, at its idled factory in Warren, Michigan, next week. The automaker plans to make 50,000 masks per day within two weeks, with a possible total output of 100,000 per day.

The automaker joins a large collective effort from corporations around the country to produce resources that the federal government is failing to provide to the parts of the country that have been hit worst by the pandemic. Tesla is helping source ventilators for New York hospitals. Apple has launched a COVID-19 screening app and is donating 10 million surgical masks. Google is making and donating millions of masks as well. Ford is also working with 3M and GE to increase the supply of both ventilators and masks.

GM and Ventec’s announcement came about an hour after President Trump tweeted that he wanted General Motors to “reopen” a factory it no longer owns so that the company can make thousands of ventilators that, last night on Fox News, he said were not necessary. It’s unclear why Trump thought GM would be able to “reopen” the Lordstown, Ohio, factory, as he not only praised the sale last year, but he also broke the news of the deal — where else? — on Twitter.

That Lordstown factory now belongs to a startup called Lordstown Motors, which plans to build electric pickup trucks for commercial fleets. Representatives for the startup did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s rage-tweets about GM came mere hours after The New York Times published a report about how the White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) balked at the $1 billion price tag proposed by the automaker and Ventec, hundreds of millions of which would go to GM to help ready the Kokomo plant for making ventilators. GM now says it is providing resources “at cost,” though it’s not clear if it’s absorbing that reported nine-figure hit. A spokesperson for GM said the company “did not change our approach to this project,” and declined to comment on the president’s statements.

GM announced last week that it was working to boost Ventec’s ventilator output, and that effort will continue, according to the announcement on Friday. But the administration was reportedly unhappy that GM and Ventec would only be able to make a few thousand of them by the end of April — something Trump seemed to confirm on Friday.

“As usual with ‘this’ General Motors, things just never seem to work out,” Trump tweeted on Friday morning. “They said they were going to give us 40,000 much needed Ventilators, ‘very quickly’. Now they are saying it will only be 6000, in late April, and they want top dollar. Always a mess with Mary B. Invoke ‘P’.”

“P,” Trump clarified in a later tweet, refers to the Defense Production Act, a wartime law that allows a presidential administration to force private-sector businesses to manufacture certain necessary goods. Trump has spent weeks talking about relying on the Defense Production Act to alleviate shortages of critical equipment like ventilators and surgical masks. But so far, he’s refused to actually use it, despite repeated requests from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to do so. It’s not yet clear whether Trump will invoke the Defense Production Act after his tweets on Friday.

In fact, when Trump appeared on Sean Hannity’s nightly Fox News show on Thursday, he wrongly implied that the tens of thousands of ventilators that Cuomo has asked for won’t be necessary. “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,” he said on the show. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators.”

This scattered messaging along with a delayed government response in testing for the virus are big reasons why the United States now has more confirmed cases of COVID-19 than any other country in the world.



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We’re still waiting for Trump to make good on coronavirus testing plan

On a sunny afternoon two weeks ago, President Trump stood in front of the White House and promised the US a way to get tested for COVID-19. Google was working on a new website, he said, which would give every American consumer an easy way to see if they should be tested and find a place to get that test. Vice President Pence had promised a “dramatic increase in testing capacity” at a press conference a few days earlier — and now, it looked like an American tech giant was swooping in to make good on the promise.

“Google is going to develop a website… to determine if a test is warranted and to facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location,” Trump said at the press conference. “We cover very, very strongly our country. Stores in virtually every location. Google has 1,700 engineers working on this right now. They have made tremendous progress.”

It’s now clear that nothing of the kind was actually happening. Google was blindsided by the announcement; the 1,700 engineers were taken from a volunteer list. None of the company’s subsequent projects have offered anything like the comprehensive testing promised by the White House. Google launched a COVID-19 information page the next week, but it had little to do with testing. Yesterday, Verily rolled out details of its drive-through testing unit, but it’s restricted to a handful of counties in California, and there’s no indication it will ever cover the entire country. Most importantly, it doesn’t expand testing to include anyone who wasn’t already eligible. It simply isn’t getting more tests to more people.

There have been lots of false starts and bad promises in this White House’s outbreak response, but it’s worth spending a minute to focus on this one. Every country that has gotten the outbreak under control has done so by relentlessly working to identify everyone who has contracted the virus — through both contact tracing and random population tests — then cordoning off the infected population. Right now, US doctors barely have enough testing to handle hospitalized patients, much less look for the mild or asymptomatic cases who are helping to drive the spread of this disease.

A functional public health response would use every available resource to expand testing, but as the epidemic has spread, our testing capacity simply hasn’t kept pace. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, we didn’t reach 10,000 tests a day until March 17th. South Korea — a much smaller country that has largely contained the virus — reached that point almost immediately.

The biggest problem with Trump’s plan was that it never addressed the real problem with US testing. His website would have been a new way for the average person to submit samples and receive results, but the limited resource is the laboratory work that happens in between those steps. Lots of health care providers have set up places to collect samples (really, all it takes is a swab), but we simply don’t have enough equipment and resources in labs to test as many samples as we need. In California alone, a backlog of more than 48,000 test results is still pending. Clever as it is, Verily’s site can’t address that backlog; it’s not in the laboratory business. It’s as if someone built a new website for ordering face masks but didn’t check whether there were any left in the warehouse.

A chart of COVID-19 infections, viewable in more detail here.

You may not be surprised by all this. Again, Trump has blustered in with ambitious promises and vague details, then moved on to another distraction before the facts can catch up. He does this so much that it can feel pointless to call him out for it: there was the wall, the China tariffs, rewriting NAFTA, the North Korean nuclear deal — on and on and on until you can’t keep track of it all. There’s never any political cost, so the details become irrelevant. Dwelling on them can make you feel like you’re the only one not getting the joke.

But the scale and velocity of this crisis are different, and the stakes are much higher. We don’t have two weeks to waste on empty promises. We don’t have time to play games.

On the day Trump held his press conference, there were 2,133 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States. Two weeks later, there are more than 85,000, the most of any country in the world. If infections keep growing at this rate — roughly 35 percent each day — the next two weeks will put us over 5 million. An optimistic 1 percent mortality rate would project 50,000 dead from those infections alone, roughly the number of enlisted US soldiers who died in the Vietnam War.

There’s a way out of this. We need testing — enough to test asymptomatic people at scale and begin to isolate the contagious population. We need ventilators to sustain the lives of thousands of gravely ill patients who are already overwhelming hospitals. We need gloves and face masks to keep health care providers safe through the treatment process so we can keep those same hospitals staffed through the coming months of crisis.

And behind all of those things, we need leaders who keep their promises.

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Google aims to donate more than 2 million face masks to the CDC

Google CEO Sundar Pichai says that Google will work with a partner company, Magic Glove & Safety, to produce and donate “2-3 million face masks in the coming weeks,” according to a blog post. Once produced, Google will donate them to the CDC Foundation.

The face masks are part of a larger set of initiatives Google is taking to donate both money and services to combat the coronavirus pandemic. It is granting over $250 million in “ad grants” to NGOs like the World Health Organization and “more than 100 government agencies globally.” Google also said that employees from various Alphabet divisions will be offering “engineering, supply chain and heathcare expertise” to PPE manufacturers to help them make and distribute ventilators.

It’s also creating a “$200 million investment fund” that it intends to set aside for loans that will go to small businesses. A Google spokesperson tells The Verge that “In the US, Google will provide low-interest loans to small businesses through Opportunity Fund Network and other community development financial institutions (“CDFIs”).”

Google is also giving away Google ad credits to small and medium businesses that it says will amount to $340 million that “can be used at any point until the end of 2020.” Ad budgets are often the first thing to go when a business is under stress, so the grants will likely help.

Finally, there are various other smaller efforts, like a $10,000 match for employee donations and Google Cloud credits for academic institutions.

The move comes just after Apple released an app and website devoted to providing COVID-19 and coronavirus information, including a screener quiz. One thing Google is not doing is updating its informational COVID-19 site to include screener questions or directions to local testing facilities.

Google, of course, was at the center of a week-long controversy over whether it would launch a website that would live up to President Donald Trump’s original promise on March 13th. He had said that Google’s site would allow you to answer screener questions and then be directed to a local drive-through testing facility. That was not true and is not true today.

After a delay, Google launched an informational site on March 21st, but it did not have a screener quiz or a way to find testing. Instead, it linked to general coronavirus information and local state resources. Google’s sister company, Verily, did launch a site that hewed a little closer to the original promise, but it was limited to the Bay Area and was filled up so quickly that it stopped offering services within 24 hours of its launch. It has since expanded to Riverside and Sacramento counties.

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Med students are graduating early to join the fight against COVID-19

In a normal year, fourth-year medical students across the United States would have some downtime in April. They would have already found out where they’ll be doing their residencies and should have the whole month or more to coast through to graduation and the start of their medical careers in the summer.

But this isn’t a normal year, and a handful of medical schools around the country are offering to let students graduate early so they can join the fight against COVID-19. The Grossman School of Medicine at New York University was the first to do so. Eligible students who’d already met graduation requirements could become doctors a few months ahead of schedule if they agreed to join the emergency or internal medicine departments at NYU’s hospital.

Gaby Mayer is one of the dozens of NYU students who volunteered to graduate early. (Full disclosure: she’s also my friend.) She’d first heard that early graduation might be an option a few weeks ago when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo mentioned the possibility at a press conference. “We weren’t sure if it would really get there, but we knew that other countries that were getting hit hard by COVID-19 were entertaining similar plans,” she says.

Now that it’s official, she says she’s relieved that she can help.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

How did you feel when you were officially asked to graduate early?

We’d all been talking about it informally as medical students. We really felt like a lot of us were sitting around doing a lot of nothing between now and graduation. We were feeling really happy to have a skill set where we could go into the hospital and relieve some of the strain. The first response was relief and, in some ways, excitement.

I think I’d be remiss to not say I was a little nervous. The prospect of becoming a doctor for the first time is always going to be overwhelming, and there’s a big learning curve at the beginning. To be learning in this hectic environment is certainly an additional challenge, but I think we’re ready for it.

What are you doing to prepare for COVID-19, specifically?

I’ve been keeping up with case reports and keeping an eye on the medical literature. Now, I’ll dive in a bit more. Since the announcement, a lot of us have put together a plan for the next few weeks — less about COVID-19, but more about how we’ll be transitioning our role in the hospital.

What will your role be in the hospital during the outbreak?

I’m not sure how much of what I’ll be doing will be different from what I would have been doing in my first year. But normally, we’d be there to keep parts of patient care moving forward so they receive appropriate care. We’re the first ones to see patients in the morning, we coordinate consults between the different areas of medicine, write notes on patients, and keep the closest eye on them. We do that so the senior medical staff, who’s closely supervising us, can both teach us about things like diagnoses but also so they can have room to think about the higher-level plan.

The dean mentioned that we wouldn’t be seeing intubated or medically complex patients, so my guess is that they’ll try to keep us out of COVID-19 areas. But it’s hard to say for sure.

How does it feel to enter medicine and become a doctor right now?

I feel really prepared. I wouldn’t have volunteered if I felt in any way that I wouldn’t be able to serve my patients. I think I’m going to have to adjust my expectations, but there won’t be a lot of adjusting of the core things I need to be a good doctor.

I think I am a little nervous, of course. A big part of [the first year of residency] is about having a strong team to walk you through this new identity and new role. I think I’m a little bit nervous about whether we’ll get the same attention. We’ll get the same supervision in terms of patient care, but this is all happening in a crazy environment.

But the biggest feeling I have is one of gratitude that I can help. I’m really committed to patient care. It’s the reason I went to medical school, and it keeps me really grounded. To be able to come back to that is a gift in a time when things are so crazy.

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Instagram therapists, and their DMs, are open for business

Instagram Live therapy sessions can be jarring. An iPhone ping occasionally goes off, the therapist forgets to turn off the press conference she was watching before going live, or the sound drops out momentarily. Even beyond the technical difficulties, watching an influencer chat with her therapist feels intrusive and wrong, but, eventually, as the Live levels out and everything works as it should, the therapist can get to the nitty-gritty. Conversation flows, and viewers get to benefit from hearing another person’s anxieties expressed out loud.

Influencer Katie Sands and her therapist Stephanie Lesk started weekly live chats last week for Sands’ more than 200,000 followers. They discuss COVID-19 and the realities of working and living through a pandemic. They talk about financial stress and how strange everything is right now — presumably, feelings other people are working through, too.

Other therapists began bringing COVID-19 content to Instagram a few weeks ago, and as more countries around the world started telling residents to stay home, the volume of accounts posting outbreak-oriented advice grew. Therapists across the US are now offering virtual sessions, open workshops, opening their DMs up for questions, and partnering with influencers to get their messages out. They’re trying to find a way to bring calm to a severely stressful and anxiety-inducing pandemic, especially for people who can’t afford their own therapist.

Katie Sands and her therapist Stephanie Lesk.

“Why not have a conversation about it and just kind of allow people in the room to say, ‘Look, we’ve got to make choices here [about] how we want to move through this thing,’” Lesk said. “You have to find some way to take control of this thing.”

Direct contact with a therapist is one option, and Instagram offers a way for therapists and clients to connect. Jamie Castillo, who leads the Arizona-based therapy group Find Your Shine, piloted a virtual support group for Arizona residents this week, advertising it on her popular Instagram account. The group gives people a place to “focus on self-soothing strategies and empowerment, rather than talking about the pandemic and perpetuating fear.” It costs $20 per person.

“During this time, we’re going to also try and delicately talk about the silver lining that we can take in terms of increasing empathy for people around us and focusing on the collective good versus every man for himself kind of mentality,” she says.

Castillo’s Instagram account also offers supportive posts and advice on topics such as infertility, relationship conflict, and trauma. But recently, her posts have a different, more targeted purpose: helping people through quarantine. She only addresses COVID-19 by name several times while the rest of her posts center on the idea of cancellations, social distancing, and media overexposure.

“What’s cool with Instagram is to obviously not act as a replacement for therapy, but to kind of close those gaps and reduce those barriers that people all over the world face when it comes to getting mental health care,” Castillo says. Her posts can’t apply to everyone at once, “but people have said the posts make them think about things in a different way or encourage them to give themselves grace.”

Instagram also allows therapists to share how they’re able to help, says Alyssa Lia Mancao, a therapist in Los Angeles. “People normally see therapists as kind of this thing that happens behind closed doors,” she says. “You don’t really know what’s going on; you don’t really know what it’s like. It’s something that we don’t talk about as much as we should.”

Mancao pivoted her content to topics that speak more directly to the crisis. The pandemic pushed her to go live on her own page where she took questions from viewers, and she’s planning to take over the Stories of a separate, finance-oriented account, The Financial Diet, to reach its followers and give mental health tips.

“Most [therapists] aren’t taking any new clients right now and don’t want to start out a relationship through a video,” Mancao said. “Being able to provide at least this information through Instagram, it’s really helpful for the people who haven’t had the luxury to be in therapy and get to therapy right now.”

Governments and organizations have recognized how important mental health is during this crisis, too. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this week that more than 6,000 mental health professionals signed up to assist people via a public hotline, which he encouraged people to call into to talk through their feelings. UNICEF published an article highlighting ways in which teenagers can care for their mental health.

Still, other therapists are taking the pandemic as an opportunity to advertise their services, knowing there’s a need. Instagram gives therapists the ability to market themselves and their messages widely, making it an important platform for independent therapists trying to find new clients.

Hilary Weinstein, a therapist in New York City, has advertised on influencers’ pages before, but she says she only recently returned to her practice after taking a break. In the past, she reached out to meme accounts, like @sobasicicanteven, and offered to pay them to share posts advertising her services. This time around, she’s doing the same thing. We Met At Acme, a popular Instagram account and podcast, reposted her because of a partnership. She says these posts have resulted in many people reaching out to her, although with insurance and figuring out whether they’re a good match, that number can dwindle.

Online therapy had already been growing, Weinstein says, and the pandemic’s unknown length will help it grow. “That kind of sparked a lot of anxiety in and of itself, like how long am I going to have to be alone and be alone with my thoughts?” Weinstein says. “That’s never healthy, especially so for extended periods of time, so I think it just really lends itself to the whole teletherapy trend that was kind of on the rise anyway.”

Instagram therapy isn’t a substitute for an actual person giving care, these therapists say, but it’s a step toward destigmatizing mental health, and it gives people a clearer idea of how they can care for themselves during this challenging time.

“A lot of people feel ready to go to therapy, but not a lot of people have the privilege, you know, financially, [they] can’t go to therapy,” Mancao says. “There’s so much stigma about therapy in different cultures and different families, but I think that being able to follow a therapist on Instagram bridges that barrier and really helps people connect to information that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise.”

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Now is a great time to buy an e-bike

If you’ve been thinking about buying an electric bike but have been hesitant to pull the trigger, now may be the best time to go through with a purchase.

COVID-19 has completely upended how we get around on a daily basis. Public transportation is seen as too risky. Shared bikes and scooters probably are, too. You’re most likely staying at home or sheltering in place, so you don’t have too far to travel to run errands or get some fresh air. Walking is fine — for a while. Eventually, there’s going to be diminishing returns, especially as you wear out all of your available routes. You could haul out your old bike for a ride — and you should — but why not go electric?

Let’s look at all of the reasons why e-bikes are really the best mode of transportation for our new pandemic way of life and why this is a very good time to get one for yourself (if you’re fortunate enough to still be employed).

Social distancing: Experts advise that you stay at least six feet away from other people to minimize the spread of infection. It’s a blunt response to the immediate crisis that will last weeks, likely months, and possibly longer if there’s a resurgence before a vaccine can be found.

Cycling is an excellent way to adhere to social distancing guidelines — as long as you’re riding alone. Racing is an excellent group activity, but it’s probably not the best type of cycling for the present moment, so leave the spandex at home. An e-bike, with its varying levels of assist, is the perfect way to get outside, feel the breeze on your skin, watch the pavement rush past underneath, and still get that shot of endorphins in your brain without expending too much effort.

An e-bike also lets you ride farther to escape the congested hearts of most cities where crowded bike paths, especially in Europe, can still pose a risk. Most e-bikes will travel at least 25 miles (40 kilometers), with 50-plus miles (80-plus kilometers) possible when fitted with bigger batteries or when dialing back the assisted power level. And if the battery does die, you can often pop in a spare or pedal home for some much-needed exercise.

Owned, not shared: The shared scooter and bike startups thought they could stick it out during the pandemic, but it appears many are scaling back as ridership fizzles and operations become more difficult and expensive. Infectious disease experts say the risk of contracting coronavirus from a shared vehicle is low even though early studies show it hanging about on surfaces like plastic and stainless steel for a few days. Naturally, many aren’t willing to take the risk. In a recent video conference, micromobility analyst Horace Dediu said the novel coronavirus could accelerate the shift from shared vehicles to personally owned ones. We tend to agree.

City of Osnabrück receives German Sustainability Award 2020

Photo by Friso Gentsch / Picture Alliance via Getty Images

Car traffic is plummeting: People are staying at home and avoiding unnecessary travel, demand for ride-hailing is fizzling, and the streets have never been more inviting for cyclists. INRIX says road traffic is down 30 percent in the US cities it tracks. And it could go even lower: Italy, the first nation to institute a coronavirus “lockdown,” is seeing a 65 percent drop overall and 70 percent in personal vehicle travel. Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s clear sailing for cycling. Cyclist injuries in New York City were up 43 percent between March 9th and March 15th, according to the NYPD. Cities need to do more to protect cycling by banning car traffic from some streets and expanding their bike lane network. But for experienced cyclists or those who live in places with a robust cycling infrastructure, the time has never been better.

Rules are relaxing: New York City is one of the few cities worldwide to prohibit the use of e-bikes, but the pandemic is bringing some much-needed relief. After encouraging New Yorkers to avoid public transportation during the crisis, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was suspending the police department’s ongoing crackdown on immigrant food delivery workers who use e-bikes. It will likely be very difficult for the city to resume enforcement of its ban after the pandemic subsides, so why not take advantage of this new permissive culture and buy an e-bike.

The weather is improving: In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s springtime in the Northern Hemisphere. What better excuse do you need to get off your ass and into the saddle for a ride? Regular bikes are motivating in their own right, but e-bikes are the perfect all-weather-but-especially-springtime vehicles, allowing you to haul picnic or hiking gear over long distances without breaking a sweat (unless you want to).

A boost for small businesses and health workers: With many restaurants and small businesses turning to delivery to keep things afloat during the pandemic, the need for a fleet of efficient, fast-moving delivery workers is greater than ever. There is likely more supply than demand at the moment, with many gig workers turning to delivery to help offset losses in other jobs. But there’s no question that bikes, and especially e-bikes, are the best way to transport packages and food deliveries to customers.

Some cities are even recognizing that they have a role to play to encourage more delivery workers to use bikes: New York City’s comptroller released a report recently encouraging the city to subsidize “frontline workers” who may be interested in purchasing e-bikes to help speed up their work.

In the UK and parts of the US, bicycle shops selling electric and standard bikes have been granted “essential” status during the COVID-19 lockdown. In London, Brompton bicycles is loaning 200 of its folding bikes to members of the National Health Service (NHS), while many shops across the country are offering NHS staff free repairs. In Scotland, charity organization Forth Environment Link is providing free e-bike loaners to dozens of NHS staff so that they can move between hospital sites and home without using public transportation.

Good e-bikes at all price ranges: E-bike sales are booming globally, which is helping to drive down purchase prices. Local governments are also stepping in with subsidy programs, tax breaks, and other schemes to help drive adoption.

Good e-bikes can now be had for less than $1,000. Even premium e-bikes that offer more features and greater peace of mind can be found for less than $2,000. VanMoof, for example, recently dropped the price of its excellent Electrified S2 and X2 e-bikes to €1,798 in Europe and $1,998 in the US. Likewise, an exceptionally promising new e-bike from Muto has just started sales in Europe for an introductory price of €1,549. And Rad Power Bikes’ ridiculously fun RadRover utility bike can now be had for $100 less at $1,199.

Many countries in Europe offer e-bike incentives to promote their green initiatives. In the Netherlands, for example, a government-backed scheme introduced in January allows employees to lease an electric bike for less than the cost of a Netflix subscription. A €3,000 (about $3,260) e-bike can be leased through employers for about €7 ($7.60) per month.

The US is not nearly as forward-thinking, but perhaps a pandemic will spur a much-needed change in how we see e-bikes.

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How the biggest gaming leagues are adapting to an online-only world

Almost every single major professional sports league across the globe is on indefinite hiatus due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. There’s no NBA, no Champions League, no Olympic Games. But an unlikely option has started to fill that void for viewers: competitive video games. For years, esports leagues have tried to emulate traditional sports to reach a larger and more mainstream audience. But with millions forced to stay at home, these leagues have had to adapt in a way that emphasizes their digital-first nature. “This is where our roots are,” says Dominique Gelineau, the general manager of the Call of Duty League’s Toronto Ultra.

Over the past few weeks, almost every major esports league in the world — including the CDL, Overwatch League, ESL Pro League, Flashpoint, and multiple League of Legends competitions — has shifted to an online format. Typically, these games are played offline in a studio or arena environment. Players take the stage, fans go wild, and casters keep up the energy with infectious commentary. Re-creating that when everyone, from the players to the event’s producers, is working from home creates its own unique set of challenges.

In late February, IEM Katowice 2020, one of the world’s premier Counter-Strike competitions, took place in an empty 11,000-seat stadium after the Polish government declared a ban on mass gatherings not long before the event was set to kick off. It was around this time that Craig Levine, global chief strategy officer for the CS:GO ESL Pro League, realized they were going to need to make some changes. The league originally planned to play out its regular season at a studio in Malta, with the finals slated for an event in Denver. The team went through a few options, including playing in a studio with no fans, but as the situation escalated, they settled on playing the entirety of the competition online.

Call of Duty League - Launch Weekend

Photo by Hannah Foslien / Getty Images

This created some potential issues. For one, the competition was meant to be a global one, with teams from around the world competing. That was less viable as travel restrictions became more abundant, so the league reorganized with divisions specifically for Europe and the Americas. “We went from one global product, to essentially two continental products, to solve for latency which isn’t quite so good across the Atlantic yet,” says Levine.

There was also the question of actually producing the events. Unlike many leagues, the ESL is still operating a studio for a skeleton production crew, while the players compete from their homes or team facilities. Even still, they started small. The first online broadcast was relatively bare-bones; you couldn’t even see the players themselves. “The first day of Pro League was getting the Xs and Os down, the basics of it,” Levine says. “Then starting day two, day three, and every day thereafter we’ve started adding other production elements; more videos from players at other events, more player interviews from team facilities. We wanted to make sure that the show went on.”

Other leagues have gone fully remote. Like the ESL Pro League, the League of Legends Championship Series originally intended to continue its season in a studio with no fans present, but ultimately, they were forced to go online instead. “We realized that forcing everyone into the arena is probably something that we shouldn’t be doing,” says LCS commissioner Chris Greeley. But the LCS has also taken things a step further with a completely remote broadcast. Every person involved is working from home, which means viewers get to see things like commentator Josh Leesman’s shiba inu appear in a live broadcast. Greeley says that the production team created new tools to simulate the experience of being in a broadcast booth so that they can work from home “but in a way that feels like they’re all in the control room together.”

The league has also had to make some changes to ensure everyone plays fair. In a studio environment, everything is controlled; in the LCS, players aren’t even allowed to take their gaming peripherals out of the building. But that level of oversight isn’t possible online, so the LCS has instituted other measures. These include screen recording, running in-game communications through league-operated Discord servers, and broadcasting games on a delay so players can’t gain a significant advantage from watching the competition. Similarly, the ESL Pro League is utilizing proprietary anti-cheat tools during matches and also keeping tabs on players through webcams. These have an added benefit: not only can you ensure the person playing is who they say they are, but you also get extra footage for the broadcast.

Photo by Cato Cataldo / Houston Outlaws

There are, of course, some unexpected issues with such a big transition. For instance, some LCS broadcasters were seeing their internet throttled in the middle of a game because they were consuming so much bandwidth. It’s also been a significant logistics adjustment for the teams and players. For the Toronto Ultra, the team was just getting ready to open up a new practice facility when they were forced to work remotely. Thankfully, most of the players and staff live at the same apartment complex, so they’re still able to keep in touch.

Gelineau says that the team has maintained the same practice schedule as before in an attempt to keep a sense of normalcy. “The biggest challenge for us has been, these are young players, a lot of them have moved away for the first time, and so just making sure they’re supported and that they know they’re not alone in this,” she explains. While the CDL season hasn’t started back up again yet, she notes that the team will do something similar for game days, with players keeping their same pregame rituals — whether it’s a particular warmup playlist or pregame meal — to stay focused, which will be particularly important since they’re used to live events. “You don’t get the roar of the crowd,” she says, “or getting hyped from people around you.”

Other teams have different setups. Gen.g’s LA office — which houses its Fortnite, CS:GO, and NBA 2K teams — remains open; the team says it was designed to run with minimal staff. “This allows for our players to continue to come into a safe / clean environment where they can eat, practice, and compete in online tournaments safely,” says general manager Nathan Stanz, noting that all of the team’s players live within walking distance.

Some teams are more scattered. In the ESL Pro League, Complexity Gaming’s CS:GO squad is spread out across Denmark, with one player currently based in Bulgaria. It’s an awkward setup, but as Complexity COO Kyle Bautista notes, it also made a lot more sense than flying everyone back to the team’s home base in Texas. “We wanted to make sure that we were keeping our players safe and in a good mental space,” he says.

No matter the team or league, everyone is dealing with uncertain times and a situation that is constantly changing. As Greeley notes, “there is no pandemic playbook.” And with millions stuck at home looking for entertainment, esports are one of the only live options. The ESL Pro League says that its second day of online play was “the single most-watched broadcast day of an ESL Pro League season ever,” while the LCS maintained a fairly consistent level of viewership and its Chinese counterpart, the League of Legends Pro League, saw a 30 percent viewership jump year over year when it returned to online play.

“As other sports and entertainment have gone dark, we’ve probably inadvertently benefited,” says Levine.

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Technology

Bloodshot never had a chance of starting a new cinematic universe

As one of the last movies to premiere in theaters before the coronavirus pandemic shut down social gatherings, Bloodshot has had a terrible journey to existence. Once upon a time, the Vin Diesel-led action movie based on the comic book from Valiant Entertainment would have kicked off a new cinematic universe built around its superheroes. That is no longer the case, largely due to a shift in which studio now has the film rights to most Valiant characters. But even if rights weren’t an issue, Bloodshot — which is more of a middling action movie than a promising superhero debut — doesn’t inspire confidence. And in the midst of a pandemic that has reshaped Hollywood, is there even room for a new cinematic universe anymore?

As an action movie, Bloodshot is the worst kind of uninspiring: not bad enough to circle back around toward fun, not good enough at action to be even momentarily impressed by a fight scene. Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) is a soldier rebuilt with the power of high-tech nanomachines that make him super strong, super fast, and able to recover from any injury. The company that did this wants Garrison to be a guinea pig, and Garrison just wants to use his powers to get revenge on the man who killed his wife. The twist comes when Garrison learns that his memories are forgeries, manipulated to motivate him into doing some corporate dirty work. When a potential rival needs to be taken out, handlers wipe Garrison’s memories to give him a new nightmare where someone different killed his wife, and let his desire for revenge run its course. It’s a wonderfully twisted state of affairs, all hamstrung by truly awful writing and action that plays like a CW show with a little extra spending money from dad.

It’s, quite simply, boring — the kind of boring that quickly makes you feel like you made a mistake, even if you knowingly put it on because you’re stuck at home with nothing to do for an hour and forty minutes.

There’s something admirable about Bloodshot’s unassuming take on comic book worldbuilding, but it has the unfortunate downside of making everything about it forgettable. It’s hard to imagine Bloodshot ginning up much excitement for a sequel or kicking off a cinematic universe like an earlier version of it was supposed to. (That movie was going to be directed by the directors of John Wick, with Jared Leto in talks to star.) But in the grand scheme of things, it’s difficult to envision another cinematic universe getting off the ground anymore.

To this day, the Marvel Cinematic Universe remains the only sprawling movie enterprise of its type to find any real success. Every other attempt has been aborted — most famously, Universal’s Dark Universe, and most interestingly, the DCEU, which is actively being retooled under a state of plausible deniability where it does not particularly matter if its post-Justice League films are connected or not. The exception that proves the rule is The Conjuring, which has spawned a web of horror movies loosely connected by the collection of mementos kept under lock and key by the paranormal investigators at the center of that franchise.

Creating a cinematic universe is hard, if not impossible, and as Hollywood moves into triage to salvage this year’s releases, extending them into 2021, the idea of a new one just seems increasingly absurd. Whether the plans to build a new constellation of films starring Valiant’s non-Bloodshot characters will weather this storm is just one of the countless projects in limbo right now. The economics of the entertainment industry are being entirely upended, and a return to the previous status quo seems increasingly unlikely. Marvel movies will likely be fine with some reconfiguring, DC films will likely stick around, and mega-franchises like The Fast and Furious movies or Star Wars are probably not going anywhere.

But the era where studios actively try to catch the cinematic universe wave? That trend might be over for everyone but the biggest players in Hollywood, a strange period in history brought to an even stranger end.

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Tutorials

Earn Money Online, How to Choose The Best Sponsors To Support

Everyone wants to know if you can really earn money online, how to find sponsors to work with and become an influencer. A sponsor is a small business, big brand or even an individual that is prepared to pay you to promote their content or product. It may involve a social media shout-out, wearing a piece of jewellery in an Instagram live post or even writing articles to post on your blog. 

There are many ways to work with brands online and earn money online. How to find great sponsors and which ones you should support is a little more tricky but it’s much easier than you may think. 

Earn Money Online, How to Choose The Best Sponsors To Support

Earn money online, how to make it as a blogger
Please note that this page may contain affiliate links

You can earn money online, how bloggers do it! Working with brands online or using a platform like Get Blogged. It is an excellent way to earn money online as a growing small business. However, you must have established your brand identity first even if it’s personal branding.

Knowing who you are at your core, which morals your business will hold and how you will proceed will really help you decide which jobs you want to work on. 

 

So, how do you choose the sponsors to work with? Answer these questions! 

  

Do You Believe in the Brand and their Message? 

The most important thing to think about is whether your values align with their values and the message. Check them out on social media and see what they share regularly. Of course, my own values and morals apply to my business. So I will not work with any unethical companies, those who support messages I don’t agree with. 

 

Earn money online, how to figure out your brand morals
Example of a great coffee company who wears their heart on their sleeve.

 

For example, if I were a pet blogger, there’s no way I would work with a company that sold electric shock collars because I personally think they’re cruel. Once you know what you stand for, finding appropriate brands and paid blogging jobs becomes much easier. 

 

Ideally, you should pick something that you actually use or will use. The best tip I can give you is to always consider your audience. If you feel like the brand’s message is something that would resonate with your readers, then let the brand know that in your pitch. 

 

Earn money online, how to find paid blogging opportunities

Is it Worthwhile?

What’s in it for you? Due to the size and age of my brand, I can get away with not working in exchange for gifts.  The mistake a lot of new influencers will make is to jump at the first opportunity they are offered. Don’t do that. Never ever be afraid to say

“Sure, I would love to work with you on this, can I ask you what the budget is for this particular campaign”.

Should Be Said By You In Reponse To Collaborations With Other Businesses

That way, you ensure you are being compensated for your time. 

Influencers never seem to value their time. Set rates and don’t just take a job that pays $20 for the sake of it. Some of those jobs can take hours to do and you end up being paid maybe $4 an hour. Not worth it.

 

Earn money online, how to find blogging opportunities

Finally, in this guide to earn money online, how to choose sponsors and be a better influencer

These tips are an excellent way to get you started writing sponsored posts for your websites, or simply finding brands to partner with. 



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