Araav Patel lives in a household containing several people at greater risk from COVID-19. The Fremont high school student lives with his parents and grandparents, and suffers personally from a heart condition. So he and his family have been relying on the popular grocery-delivery service Instacart during Alameda County's shelter-in-place order.
But so too have millions of other Americans, which has made it increasingly difficult for users of the service to obtain a coveted grocery delivery time slot.
"When my family needed basic necessities, they had to wait, like, hours on end," Patel said. "And oftentimes my parents had to waste, like, hours at a time just staring at the screen and refreshing it to see if a slot might become available."
The experience was not unique to Patel's family. A recent article by Bloomberg compared using Instacart and several other grocery-delivery services to the process of buying tickets to a popular performer via the Ticketmaster website.
Patel said that members of his family managed to secure Instacart delivery slots by waking up in the middle of the night or early in the morning. But as a budding computer science student who plans to attend UC Berkeley in the fall, he began to think that there had to be a better solution to the problem.
So he wrote a script that runs on a Mac and sends the user an alert or email as soon as an Instacart delivery slot is available. The way the script works, Patel said, is that users complete their shopping like normal and then attempt to check out. At that point, they run the script, and it regularly checks to see whether a new delivery slot has become available. When it discovers an appointment, it notifies the user, who must then check out and pay in the usual fashion.
"Once you notice a slot is available, I have noticed from my personal experience that you have to order within two or three minutes or the slot is gone," Patel said. "You have to order right away."
Patel said he wrote the script without Instacart's knowledge, but stressed that he was careful to make sure that his software did not degrade the performance of the delivery service's website by initiating too many requests for an appointment.
"This allows the user to continue with their daily schedule, while the script works for them quietly in the background," he said.
Instructions for using the script and a link to download it can be found here: Github.com/araavp/instacart-delivery-slot-finder.
"Besides my family, I know many other people in my community are more susceptible and need this more than I do," he said.
Union accuses Alameda Health System of firing whistleblowing nurse
SEIU Local 1021 said a clinical nurse who publicized the lack of protective medical equipment at Oakland's Highland Hospital in a tweet two weeks ago was fired by Alameda Health System as retribution for his actions.
Saber Alaoui tweeted an image of himself wearing a garbage bag to protect himself from the COVID-19 virus on Mar. 28. The union said Highland Hospital officials told Alaoui and other hospital workers that protective equipment was not available to them at the time.
"He stood up for safety, and AHS fired him for it," said John Pearson, the president of the SEIU Local 1021 chapter representing Alameda Health System employees. "We believe this is transparently an act of retaliation and an attempt to intimidate us as union members. We will fight this firing, and we want AHS to know that we are in no way intimidated."
Alameda Health System said the union's charge is unsubstantiated. "Claims made by John Pearson, of SEIU 1021, that a nurse was terminated based on his concerns regarding availability of personal protective equipment are false and reflect an ongoing agenda to conflate labor negotiations with a public health crisis," the health care provider wrote in a statement.
"By practice, AHS does not discuss individual personnel actions. We make these decisions based on our overriding priority of delivering patient care and fulfilling our mission of serving all."
Alaoui's tweet set of a firestorm of criticism toward the hospital system, which, in addition, to Highland Hospital, also operates Alameda Hospital and San Leandro Hospital.
In addition to the public outcry against the lack of protective equipment for health care workers during the COVID-19 outbreak, the image of a nurse using a garbage bag as makeshift protection, is leading the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to investigate the hospital's operations.
Last week, county supervisors announced they would begin an investigation over the next month. Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan said a change in how the county governs the hospital provider will likely occur later this year, or, sometime after the state's shelter in place orders begin to be lifted.
But the venomous discourse between the union and Alameda Health System management is palpable. In its statement on Wednesday, hospital officials accused the union of calling for the lynching of its chief executive officer, Delvecchio Finley, who is African-American. The union said the comment, which was made by a user on Twitter, is not affiliated with it, nor does it condone the sentiment.
Governor Lays Out Plan to Loosen Stay-at-Home Order
Gov. Gavin Newsom said he will revisit the statewide stay-at-home order in about a week if the curve of COVID-19 cases in California is not only "flattening" but "declining." The changes would also be tied to the state's number of hospitalizations and the number of patients in intensive care, the governor said.
That does not mean the order will be completely lifted, Newsom said, but certain aspects could be loosened if the state has made enough headway on the governor's six-pronged plan.
California's six indicators for modifying the stay-at-home order are:
The ability to monitor and protect communities through testing, contact tracing, isolating and supporting those who are positive or exposed.
The ability to prevent infection in people who are at risk for more severe COVID-19 cases.
The ability of the hospital and health systems to handle surges.
The ability to develop therapeutics to meet the demand.
The ability for businesses, schools and child care facilities to support physical distancing.
The ability to determine when to reinstitute certain measures, such as the stay-at-home orders, if necessary.
California Department of Public Health Director Dr. Sonia Angell said the new normal will look very different. Restaurants may reopen but it will be with fewer tables, temperature checks at the door, and increased protection for employees. Face masks will become commonplace until residents develop immunity or a vaccine is developed.
Other Virus News ...
Twelve to 15 percent of Californians have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, a state legislative analyst estimated at a budget hearing on Thursday. ... Former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer was named to lead the state's Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery. ... Alameda is proposing to offer a total of $600,000 in grants — $7,500 apiece — to its small businesses. ... Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Wednesday a $125 million relief fund that will provide undocumented residents in the state with one-time checks of $500, NBC News reported. ... Lawmakers want Gov. Gavin Newsom to reveal the extent of the state's bill when it comes to COVID-19 emergency spending, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. An assembly analysis estimates the tab is about $7 billion. ...
While the state at-large is seeing an overall rise in COVID-19 cases, the trend is quite different here in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Over the past two weeks, the number of Bay Area residents hospitalized due to COVID-19 has dropped. ... Fifty-one employees at Safeway's distribution warehouse in Tracy have been infected with COVID-19, including one death, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The massive 2.2 million sq. ft. hub delivers goods to Safeway stores for most of California and parts of Nevada. ... The Alameda County District Attorney will investigate the Hayward nursing home where 11 have died from COVID-19, the East Bay Times reported. ...
AC Transit will begin limiting the number of passengers on buses to aid social distancing. ... Emeryville, and now Berkeley, are deactivating crosswalk buttons in an effort to further discourage the spread of COVID-19, SFGate reported. The walk signs are now automated.