April 09, 2020

A COVID-19 hack the Salvation Army desperately need in the field...

By Chris Rhyss Edwards

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Front line staff are constantly at risk during the global pandemic, and the Salvation Army believe that an instant COVID risk screening test & a rapid translation app would lower that risk.

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With ‘The Global Hack’ kicking off in a matter of hours, it’s heartening to see so many worthy projects being submitted that align with the various UN sustainability goals that the event has been shaped around.

The goal is simple, each virtual team needs to work together to develop an MVP over a 48hr period, delivering a practical solution that aligns with one, or more, of the program streams that include crisis, governance, education, environment, mental health, solidarity in action, empowerment, health & wellness, and work.

A quick review of the various project submissions reveals that whilst the crisis track is popular, teams are also forward-looking, so tracks like education, health, empowerment, mental health and work have a lot of interest.

Front-line care workers are arguably at most risk of exposure in the community, yet they continue to show up day after day because they know they must or people will suffer, and in some communities, starve. In Philadelphia, The Salvation Army has a veritable army of volunteers handing out food boxes every morning, risking exposure, so we asked them to tell us about what life is like in their community today and what hack they need tomorrow.

Can you tell me about your day to day work in the community?

Our agency (The Salvation Army) and church are in an at-risk neighborhood in Philadelphia. Within this community there is quite a bit of need during normal times which is multiplied during these days.

Our typical day begins at about 7:30 as we await the delivery of either perishable or non-perishable food. We have the sidewalks marked with bright red tape set six feet apart. This is our attempt to keep social distancing for a mass distribution.

Our distribution is set to begin at 10am and people begin to line up about 8:30 with the line stretching about 500 meters up the side streets. Once we know how many packages we have, we count out tickets in that number to be handed out. At about 10am we begin to hand out the boxes. It goes very quickly for the most part.

All volunteers are wearing masks and gloves; many of those in line are wearing masks as well. For the most part, by 11am the food has been handed out, so far this has ranged between 400-500 boxes per day. Those who cannot get a box are encouraged to come back earlier the next distribution day. We also set boxes aside to do home delivery of food to the elderly.

What is your biggest challenge or risk?

Obviously, this front-line work exposes us and our volunteers and staff to the virus. It also exposes those who line up to greater risk as well. We do our best to enforce social distancing - but the increased risk is there, nonetheless.

In our context, there are many language groups which makes effective communication difficult. Also, will we have enough supply or will we run out of product? So, effectively communicating important information to all language groups is a concern and challenge, and I’m certain this would extend to city/state and federal government as well.

The longer this crisis lasts, the more likely it is that we will run out of regular supplies - especially at the volume and rate we are distributing, which is another risk as it could cause unrest, particularly in inner city neighbourhoods like ours.

How are you currently managing this risk?

When serving publicly we wear masks and gloves. We also wash our hands regularly. At the beginning of the crisis we did not have these protections, but as things have progressed, it was provided.

What one issue could The Global Hack solve for you?

An easy translation app that could be used in the heat of battle. Also, an instant test that tells us if someone has a temp or even tell us quickly is someone has the virus (or a future virus!).