Making the Most of Lockdown: Contact Tracing Apps and City Improvements

As residents ease back into daily life, contact tracing technology becomes more important than ever. In the meantime, empty streets offer cities the rare opportunity to collect valuable data and improve infrastructure while most people are safe at home. 

To facilitate knowledge sharing — specifically about COVID-19 — between city leaders, Dr. David S. Ricketts, Innovation Fellow at Harvard TECH, hosts a weekly Zoom call to discuss the challenges cities are facing and how they are being addressed.

This week, experts from New Zealand shared details surrounding its contact tracing app and open data initiatives, Dublin explained the benefits of creating 3D models of the city, and Los Angeles focuses on expanding 5G to its residents.

New Zealand Opens Communication

contact tracing app open graph

Last week, Wellington, New Zealand selected Rippl, a COVID-19 contact tracing app for use across the city, including council-owned facilities, national visitor attractions, and the many hospitality businesses throughout.

Rippl users download the app onto their phones then check-in and out of locations with a QR code. This data is recorded in a diary on the user’s device. Should a user test positive for the COVID-19 virus, they can send this data to a contact tracer. If there is a place/time of interest, the contact tracer can send a push notification to all who have the app. Users who might have been exposed based on the app’s data will be given further instructions.

The Rippl app has been downloaded over 25,000 times over the past five days, and 1,200 businesses have registered. Normally $49+ gst for three months per venue, Wellington and Dunedin businesses can register right now for free.

Following a detailed privacy impact assessment, Wellington officials chose Rippl because it has privacy measures built-in — preventing the creation of centralized registers by anyone except contact tracers. In addition, the app is very easy to use and has clear data ownership and consent models. As national registrations change, city leaders hope to consolidate this data collection into a national system.

New Zealand is also taking an open data approach to fight the crisis and keep the public informed. This allows leaders to coordinate across the public sector and non-government organizations. This data is being used to create a series of city dashboards centered around four measurements of resident well being: economic, social, cultural, and environmental.

Decision-makers, news outlets, and private citizens are using this data to create their own dashboards, as well as match them against forecasts to help make crucial decisions.

Empty Streets are Full of Opportunity

Social distancing can be a struggle, but there is a silver lining for city leaders—it’s time to break out the “to do” lists!

Empty Streets are Full of Opportunity open graph

Dublin Thinks Multi-Dimensionally

Dublin officials are using the opportunity to create a LiDAR point cloud of select city environments, which allows them to create accurate 3D models. Typically, this process would prove difficult and take weeks to complete due to vehicle traffic. However, now that the city is empty, it will only take one week to make a 3D model of 3 square kilometers.

Fewer cars on the road are good news for the city’s cyclists. Dublin is using this opportunity to make the city more bicycle-friendly by turning many vehicle lanes into cycle lanes and installing bike lane protectors nicknamed “orcas.”

Los Angeles Hooks Residents Up

As we have discussed at length here on the City Innovators Forum, 5G is helping city leaders to improve the quality of life for its residents. In a notoriously crowded city like Los Angeles, California, however, updating infrastructure is often easier said than done.

Like Dublin, L.A. is taking advantage of its unusually empty streets to increase 5G capacity for residents working at home, as well as other parts of the city. Usually, this type of project would require road closures and, at times, the building of trenches.

How to Participate in the City Leader COVID-19 Discussion:

If you are a city leader, you can join the discussion by signing up for the forum here.

This will give you access to the:

    • Online Forum
    • City Leaders WhatsApp
    • Weekly Covid19 Zoom Call

Topics we’ve discussed so far include:

1. Online tools for Public Engagement

2. Homelessness / Elderly

3. Connectivity, Wifi, and Access to Computers in Community

4. International Cooperation

5. Self-reporting, Records of self-isolation and Use of Data

6. Search for Volunteers

7. Supports for Businesses

8. Tools for Signing Docs

9. Info on Ventilators and other PPE

10. How to do department by department lockdown

11. Guidelines for Protection in a Makerspace

12. Incentive-Based Pay for City Staff

13. Strategies for city recover post-pandemic

14. Contact Tracing

We hope to see you there!

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