Looking for the helpers

COVID-19 vs open source: How developers are fighting the virus

Sarah Schlothauer
© Shutterstock / eamesBot

Programmers are in a unique position where not only can they typically work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they can help lend a hand. Help fight COVID-19 and donate your computing power, help create a community app, and keep on social distancing!

Mister Rogers famously told children that in times of fear and uncertainty, they should “look for the helpers”. As children, we clung to that nugget of wisdom as a way to soothe our fears about the state of the world. But as adults, now it’s time for us to be the helpers. Computer scientists and software engineers are in a unique position where not only can they typically work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they can help lend a hand.

How are programmers helping (besides responsibly social distancing with a well-stocked fridge of energy drinks)?

SEE ALSO: Alternative tips to live your best life while working from home during a pandemic

Open source pandemic responses


Tracking the pandemic via mobile devices. Source.

Martin Woodward from GitHub blogged about some of the open source projects they’ve seen that are helping track the pandemic, provide helpful datasets, and more.

Some of the open source repositories include:

  • 2019 Novel Coronavirus COVID-19 (2019-nCoV) Data Repository by Johns Hopkins CSSE: Using data provided by cross-referenced multiple sources including the World Health Organization, this repository visualizes the viral spread and the number of confirmed cases in your browser.
  • The COVID Tracking Project: With data from all 50 states, this project provides a comprehensive look at confirmed testing results, pending tests, and total people tested to the public. You can either view the raw data as a spreadsheet or an API. It also grades its own data quality, providing transparency on how often data is collected and from which sources.
  • COVID-19 Italia – Monitoraggio situazione: Italians have open sourced their COVID-19 data, providing a dashboard that tracks infections in real-time.
  • CoronaTracker: The app for iOS & macOS includes maps and charts, using the latest data available. It updates automatically to reflect current changes and provides two levels of detail for tracking countries or the state of individual cities.

Donate your computing power

Powerful computers are for more than playing your favorite game with 4K graphics. You can lend your computing power to the cause.

[email protected] provides software that runs on your computer in the background. It is available for Windows, macOS, and 64bit and 32bit Linux.

You may currently experience some idle time while crunching the numbers against the Coronavirus, as people worldwide are lending their powerful CPUs to scientific efforts to better understanding this disease and potentially find a cure.

All data is then made available to the public. From [email protected]:

When we are done with our analysis we upload the data here:

We also make all data publicly available, so that other people working in the field can check our analysis and anyone with new methods (e.g. the always growing machine learning data analysis) can look at them at any time: and

View the FAQ here and the repository on GitHub.

SEE ALSO: COVID-19, Software Developers and Becoming All-Remote (Part 1)

IBM’s Call for Code

On March 20, 2020, IBM published a blog post detailing their 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge. Together with the Linux Foundation and United Nations Human Rights, this year’s global challenge focuses on both climate change and COVID-19.

From the blog post:

In a very short period of time, COVID-19 has revealed the limits of the systems we take for granted. The 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge will arm you with resources (see here) to build open source technology solutions that address three main COVID-19 areas: crisis communication during an emergency, ways to improve remote learning, and how to inspire cooperative local communities.

The available references provide information on building chatbots, remote education tools, and ideas for local applications. You can help provide information on supply chains or help struggling members of your community get access to food and shelter.

View Call for Code on Twitter for more information and perhaps even some inspiration on how you can put your skills to the test and help out.

Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer

All Posts by Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer is the editor for She received her Bachelor's degree from Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey. She currently lives in Frankfurt, Germany with her husband and cat where she enjoys reading, writing, and medieval reenactment. She is also the editor for Conditio Humana, an online magazine about ethics, AI, and technology.

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