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The data that feeds states' COVID-19 decisions

Nearly every briefing by a governor on the COVID-19 pandemic begins with the latest numbers of new confirmed cases, hospitalizations and fatalities. Public health officials say these trends are critical to determining when business closures can start to be relaxed and economic activity can resume. Behind the scenes, a handful of states are collecting data on a dashboard by business-intelligence software firm Domo. In the company's home state of Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert's office is fed almost real-time updates on coronavirus infections, hospitalizations, deaths and supplies of medical and protective equipment. According to John Angus, the deputy director of the Utah Department of Technology Services, the dashboard was a big improvement over the state's initial approach to COVID-19 data. "In the beginning, we were putting numbers on coronavirus.utah.gov, but that didn’t spur anything to action," he said. "We needed better measures to attack this thing and make real solid decisions." Benjamin Freed reports.

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Broadband analysts say FCC 'failed America'

The Federal Communications Commission’s 2020 Broadband Deployment report claims there are fewer than 18 million Americans living in areas that lack access to broadband. But independent broadband experts and one of the FCC's Democratic members lambasted the report. The report claims that just 5.4 percent of people nationally lack access to fixed broadband that meets the FCC’s definition of high-speed internet service. But virtually all of the figures that show the agency’s efforts to close the digital divide are successful are based on data that the FCC knows isn’t accurate. “The FCC has failed America," said Christopher Mitchell, who runs the broadband program at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Ryan Johnston has details.

Tracking coronavirus in Oklahoma's jails

Of the 31,000 people inside Oklahoma’s state prison system, just two inmates and eight staff have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the state Department of Corrections. But thanks to a new digital tool the department launched this week, officials in Oklahoma will be alerted quickly to the exact nature of the outbreak if the number of cases begins to rise, the department’s chief information officer told StateScoop. Sarjoo Shah said he asked Microsoft to custom-build a  platform that provides staff with tools to screen inmates and track potential coronavirus spread across Oklahoma's two dozen state prisons. “Leadership can know, ‘So here’s where we’re seeing infections. Maybe it’s time to quarantine this whole cell block,’ or whatever we want to do,” Shah said. “This provides them the raw data to make better informed decisions.” Colin Wood reports.

Take a break with a virtual garbage tour

To meet its waste-diversion goals — and give exhausted teleworkers a break — Phoenix has taken its recycling education program online, using digital tools to educate businesses, K-12 students and community groups while adhering to social-distancing and other public health measures. The city's new Recycle+ website launched Wednesday to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The website is the new digital arm of the city’s Zero Waste team, a unit within the Phoenix Public Works Department that normally offers recycling facility tours, community events and presentations that teach businesses and K-12 students how to recycle. The site's features include a virtual tour of Phoenix’s materials recovery facility that was previously offered in-person, and a “Zero Waste Game” that tests players’ recycling knowledge. One of the site's goals is to give parents forced to homeschool their children a “free 15 minutes,” according to the site. Ryan has more.

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