As of April 28, 2020, more than 1,000 deaths in Bergen County have been attributable to Covid-19. Obtaining a test is still only available to people who are sick with the coronavirus symptoms (fever, cough, and shortness of breath). Governor Murphy says this situation will get better during the coming month.

I am hopeful that our local situation will start to get better sooner rather than later. Everyone I have spoken with recently is getting anxious about being house-bound. But the truth is, this virus is here, there is no vaccine, and at some point, you will most likely get it. How your body reacts to the infection will be different than anyone else’s. When that happens, I can only hope that it is mild, and your discomfort is limited.

That’s probably not what you wanted to read in a monthly newsletter that purports to be about technology, but I’m getting there.

Last week, Hope Rothenberg, Executive Director of the Fort Lee Regional Chamber of Commerce, posed the following challenge: “My biggest concern about going back to work/reopening my business is…” Here is my response.

As a practical matter, if I have to make a “house-call” in the next few weeks, I’m going to have to ask the prospect or my client to remain six feet away.  I’m also going to have to wipe down the keyboard and mouse (provided I don’t bring my own – but that will require sanitizing after each use) and wear mask and gloves throughout the process.  Having any sort of meaningful conversation will have to be done by phone (or Zoom) either before or after, because a mask hides most facial expressions.

My concerns are the same as other business owners whose businesses were shuttered and now have to reopen.

The critical question is: How do I obtain the necessary supplies required to reopen, such as thermometers, masks, gloves, wipes, and sanitizer gel?

Follow-on questions include:  What procedures am I, as a business owner, going to put in place for my organization?  And how can I get a blueprint of “best practices” so that I don’t have to re-invent the wheel?  In other words, what resources are available, and where can I obtain them?

We joke about those summertime beach establishments with a sign that reads, “No shoes, no service.” Well, that’s going to have to be adjusted to, “No mask, no gloves – you are not permitted inside.”  I believe it is essential for businesses that cater to outside guests, to be able to obtain and use a web-based app to monitor who enters and exits their store/business so that contact tracing can take place.  I know New Zealand has required this, but I haven’t yet heard of any organizations that have a solution here in the US.  Apple and Google have agreed to get something built, but it is probably going to be a while before we see one – long after most states will have reopened for business.

So let’s talk about that new app. The concept of this app is that if you find out — after being tested — that you are infected, you can indicate your status in the app. That status, and the resulting location information, will then allow anyone who has recently been near you to receive a notification that they should take protective measures (e.g., get a test or self-quarantine).

Several mechanisms provide location information using a phone’s GPS and Bluetooth functionality. Both Google and Apple acknowledge that using these features in an app will likely drain the battery quickly; if so, people won’t be inclined to use it. Thus, it is a hurdle they have to overcome.

Privacy advocates are fearful about the amount of data that will be made available and its contents. This is an argument that I find awkward, at best. After all, millions of people freely divulge vast quantities of personal information every single minute of every single day — and Facebook, Instagram, Google, and Apple take it all in, package it, and resell it. I guess in this case, the element of outrage is focused on the fact that government officials will have access to the data. App developers insist that they won’t make personally identifiable information available, that the data will only exist for 30 days, that secure data centers will be used, and that the app will be voluntary.

I simply want someone to make something that works effectively very soon. More importantly I want the app to be widely used, because if it isn’t adopted on a wholesale basis, it won’t be useful. (More data means more visibility into infection rates, hot spots, and possible causes, thereby allowing health care officials to respond more quickly.)

For additional information about Covid-19 in New Jersey, you can head over to https://covid19.nj.gov/

We are all in this together, so please take precautions to stay safe and healthy!

…You Need to Keep Your Distance, and No One is Safe

It is hard not to start this post without using the phrase made famous by Don LaFontaine in the 1980s and 1990s. He was the voice over announcer whose movie trailers frequently began with that line. For certain, we are living in a different world now than we were just a few weeks ago.

I want you to know that I am still working quite diligently because IT maintenance is considered one of the “essential” services. So, if you need help, you can always reach out to me by phone or by email. Note that in-person visits are going to be on an emergency basis only until the situation with Covid-19 resolves itself (and Governor Murphy issues a new executive order).

Last week, I informed the director of the Fort Lee Regional Chamber of Commerce that I am willing to help any small business owner (not just chamber members) set up their staff to work remotely. If you know of any small business owner who could benefit from this service, please tell them to go to https://www.heliotropicsystems.com/relief for more information — or have them call my office at 866-912-8808 option 1.

Based on all reports available now (the last week of March), things are going to get much worse long before they get better. The media (print, TV, and social) have made clear the key “rules” everyone should follow to keep themselves virus-free. Please adhere to them! I can’t stress how important it is to keep your distance, to wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, but most importantly to maintain a positive outlook while you are cooped up in your home or apartment.