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Coronavirus is already stretching state IT budgets

As more U.S. cities and counties issue shelter-in-place orders, state governments are spending big on laptops and software licenses to ensure their employees can continue to run the government remotely. The Colorado Office of Information Technology, for instance, spent $2.4 million on about 1,800 new laptops as state employees begin to work from home. Unemployment systems, meanwhile, are straining under an increased load as many non-essential businesses have been restricted from operating. In Hawaii, where the spread of the novel coronavirus has halted an $18 billion tourism industry, Chief Information Officer Douglas Murdock said his state's unemployment system has gone from logging about 100 claims daily to thousands as hotels and other businesses lay off their workers. The 30-year-old mainframe the system runs on usually works without interruption, Murdock said, but the sudden surge in claims is causing some connectivity disruptions between the mainframe and the website where Hawaiians go to request aid. Colin Wood reports.

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Digital medical licenses could help doctors move between states during crisis

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services earlier this month waived restrictions against physicians taking their medical licenses across state borders as the COVID-19 illness spreads. But states will still need to verify the credentials of visiting doctors. Merit, a software company that digitizes professional licensing, said it is giving state governments free access to a new platform that connect states’ medical-license databases so doctors can get to work more quickly if they are dispatched to another part of the country to work on the health crisis. "Normally, you will apply for a license in a new state you have to go through all sorts of background checks,” said former Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer, who is also a surgeon currently on call at three Kansas City hospitals. “But you have to meet the standards of that state, and that normally takes a few weeks. Being able to go on the internet and verifying the documents is a game-changer.” Benjamin Freed reports.

Coronavirus questions? New Jersey's got answers.

At a time when people have endless questions about the COVID-19 pandemic, it's never been as important for government authorities to be reliable sources of accurate and trustworthy information. A new website set up last weekend by the State of New Jersey encourages residents to bring their inquiries about health measures, statistics and the state's actions, and get an immediate response. While all 50 states have developed some kind of emergency response website to deal with an increase in coronavirus cases, New Jersey’s new tool is the first that encourages users to ask open-ended questions about the novel coronavirus to search across information databases. It runs on a natural language processing capability from the cloud software company Yext. "At a time when access to accurate and fast-changing information is of utmost importance, we’re pleased to provide this service to the people of New Jersey," said Beth Simone Noveck, the state's chief innovation officer. Ryan Johnston has more.

More on the IT response to coronavirus

StateScoop and EdScoop's coverage of the coronavirus pandemic and what it means for the government and educational technology communities continues in a special report. It includes a new podcast on the role of GIS in mapping the spread of COVID-19, reporting on the impact that mass teleworking will have on states' cybersecurity and IT supply chains, advice on building a pandemic response website and much more. See the full report.

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