The rise of epidemiology consultants


July 7, 2020

Businesses are looking for medical expertise to help them reopen — or stay open.
July 7, 2020
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The bureaucrats are just like us. Need proof? Yesterday, the government released details on which companies got small-business relief loans (more on that below). Our own Sam Parr dug into the data… and noticed something:

Doctor, Doctor

Epidemiologists are the latest hot hires

Companies hoping to stay open during the pandemic might want to call the doctor. 

As The Washington Post reports, epidemiologists — who specialize in studying disease patterns — can help organizations navigate how best to nip infectious bugs in the bud. 

Since late February, companies have been calling on these experts for guidance.

Is there a doctor in the house? 

Kavita Trivedi is an epidemiologist in Berkeley, California, who also consults for the World Health Organization and through her private practice, Trivedi Consults.

Trivedi told The Hustle her workload exploded in February — almost a month before the pandemic hit in the US. Since then, she’s hired 2 subcontractors, but she’s still so busy that she has to turn new business away.

Kristy Weinshel, executive director of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, told us there’s been so much demand for epidemiologists’ expertise that her organization developed instructional materials to guide them in launching consulting practices. 

Shaping realistic recommendations

In some cases, companies hire epidemiologists to reassure the public they’ve been thorough in keeping their staff and customers safe. As the Post reported, Six Flags sent out a media release outlining its infection-control efforts.

But Weinshel said many companies see doctors’ insights as vital to their operations — not just their PR objectives. These collaborations focus on navigating the patchwork of CDC, WHO, and industry-specific safety protocols to shape realistic recommendations tailored to each company’s needs.

Trivedi said there’s a bit of give-and-take in coming up with a strategy, but the goal isn’t to eliminate every possible risk. Rather, the point is to come up with a plan most people can stick to. “We’re giving guidance, not enforcement,” she said.

Staying ready for anything

One piece of Trivedi’s advice for businesses: Be flexible. Recommendations likely will change as scientists learn more about the coronavirus.

And, ultimately, the ability to adapt will serve companies’ interests in the long term.

“This is not the last pandemic we will be dealing with in our lifetime,” Trivedi said. “Understanding how to implement protocols safely isn’t going to be something we do for just this virus.”

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But why let Twitter have all the fun? Today, we’re introducing a new video series called Hustle Hot Takes, with Trung at the helm. 

In each episode, he’ll analyze a piece of significant news, using a mashup of financial insights, smart commentary, and the occasional meme.

In this week’s episode, he takes on questions about Lululemon’s acquisition of the fitness startup Mirror. Like:

  • Should Lululemon shoot for the moon and acquire another big-name fitness brand?
  • Is Mirror’s $1,495 workout gizmo really just… a TV turned sideways?
  • Bonus topic: The most incredible news from Hamilton’s Disney+ debut might have nothing to do with Hamilton.

Watch here. If you like what you see, let us know by hitting the smileys at the bottom of this email.

Deluxe Tenting

Feeling meh about the outdoors? Glamping startups are here to help

These are dark days for people who can’t stand getting dirt on their clothes. 

The only real getaway this summer is camping — but if you’re like me, the prospect of falling asleep to the sound of neighboring tenters using the outhouse isn’t exactly a draw.

Thankfully, there’s some good news: Campers who want an outdoor adventure without all the pesky nature still have options. 

They’re turning to startups like Tentrr, an Airbnb-like platform where hosts who own 15+ acres of property rent out the land for the night. 

Most Tentrr bookings come with plenty of perks — an air mattress, cookware, food storage, a private outdoor toilet, and fresh linens.   

Does 15 acres to yourself seem excessive? 

Then you can try out the lower-key Hipcamp, which offers up camping rentals in backyards of 2+ acres. If you’re feeling really wild, Hipcamp also lists yurts, farmhouses, treehouses, and cottages. 

On Hipcamp, you can filter listings based on the availability of WiFi, showers, restrooms, or proximity to a swimming hole or a hot spring. And business is booming. This May, host earnings were up 3x year over year. 

Need a bit more cottagecore? 

Take a peek at Getaway, a startup offering rentals of upscale small cabins to exhausted urbanities. Bookings were up ~400% in March, according to Vox.

This isn’t your grandma’s cabin in the woods: Every Getaway home has hot water, A/C and heat, a private bathroom, a picnic table, a 2-burner stove, and “space to connect.”

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Soiled

Hold that banana peel: Vermont now requires universal composting

Next time you’re in Vermont, you better watch what you do with your apple core. If you toss it into the sidewalk trash can? Sorry, my friend, but you’re technically breaking the law.

This month, Vermont became the first state in the US to require that all organic waste — like fruit pits and unfinished food — hit the compost bin. 

That means there will be no more walking on eggshells in the Green Mountain State: You have to compost those, too. 

Vermont is getting down to earth

The state has tried for years to cut its landfill waste by half, but it has had rotten luck getting over that threshold. 

Food waste is ripe for intervention, since it accounts for about 20% of trash in the state.

Officials have already set up 100+ composting stations to get people complying.

Vermont isn’t the only locality to go all in on soil. San Francisco, for instance, has had a similar law on the books since 2009.  

Do I have to worry about trash inspectors?

The idea of the law is not to turn compost objectors into D-list criminals. The state just wants to boost voluntary compliance. 

So no, Vermont investigators will not rummage through your trash in search of that stray orange peel you forgot to drop in the compost. 

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Who Knew?

Horseshoe-crab blood is a surprisingly essential ingredient for testing new drugs

Here’s a weird fact that feels perfect for our even weirder 2020: We’re all vampires hunting horseshoe crabs. 

The blood of the horseshoe crab is the only known natural source of limulus amebocyte lysate (don’t try and sound it out, you’ll give yourself an aneurysm). 

It detects deadly toxins in pharmaceuticals, and helps greenlight lifesaving drugs — including a potential coronavirus vaccine. But our reliance on it also threatens the ocean ecosystem. 

The crabs are bleeding out

According to National Geographic, drug companies harvest 500k horseshoe crabs per year. 

Drug-company harvesting, in addition to overuse for fishing bait, reduced the number of horseshoe crabs spawned in Delaware Bay, NJ from 1.24m in 1990 to 335k in 2019.

The crabs are released back to the ocean once they’re bled, but up to 30% die anyways — endangering the marine food chain.

Plus, lysate is pricey. One gallon goes for ~$60k. 

No imitation crab, please

A synthetic alternative to crab lysate was approved in Europe, but the US maintains its safety is still unproven. 

One bit of good news: Despite the concerns of conservationists, drug companies say the amount of lysate needed to test a coronavirus vaccine would be minimal.  

Time for Animal Planet

Here are some things I learned about horseshoe crabs (AKA my new favorite animal) while writing this: 

  • They’re more spider than crab. They have nine eyes! Terrifying. 
  • They’re also literal dinosaurs. Horseshoe crabs have been hanging around beaches for 445m years
  • Every year, they have a “massive orgy” in Delaware Bay. Dirty Jersey is right.
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Corona Cash

Which businesses got coronavirus relief money? Insights from the new data

Since the government rolled out its gigantic coronavirus relief program for small businesses, the question’s been on everyone’s mind: Which companies are getting the money?

Yesterday, we got some answers. The government released details on who received loans under the $660B Paycheck Protection Program. (Data wizards, go here to slice and dice the numbers for yourself.)

The figures released Monday weren’t a full breakdown of every cent and every business. They covered companies that received loans of $150k+ — and 86.5% of the loans were for less than that amount. And ~$130B in the program is still available. 

Here are a few highlights from Monday’s big data dump:

  • Big states got larger shares of the money. California businesses ranked first, at $68.2B, followed by companies in Texas ($41.1B), New York ($38.3B), and Florida ($32B).
  • A few industries received about half the funds. Topping the list were health care (12.9%), professional services (12.7%), construction (12.4%), and manufacturing (10.3%).
  • More than $30B of loans have been canceled. But it’s not clear why in every case. Some companies, like Shake Shack, returned the cash after getting grilled for taking it in the first place.

Check out these links for details on which businesses got the money:

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Snippets

1️⃣  The next salvo in the podcast wars: Sirius XM is nearing a deal to buy the Stitcher podcast network for ~$300m.

2️⃣  An update to Slack’s notification settings could keep you from getting dreaded weekend pings.

3️⃣  Your voicemails will thank you: The Supreme Court upheld a ban on cell-phone robocalls. (Some context.) 

4️⃣  Now that India has banned TikTok, Facebook thinks it’s the perfect home for Reels, its TikTok-style competitor.

5️⃣  Talk about a Hamilton bump: Disney+ downloads shot up 64% this weekend. 

6️⃣  This drone light show in South Korea also doubled as a reminder to continue social distancing. 

7️⃣  Tesla started selling “S3XY” shorts, a jab at the company’s short sellers, for… *heavy sigh* $69.420.

8️⃣  Animal Crossing is blowing up, and so is its real-life namesake: Quarantine has led to a big rise in animal street crossings

9️⃣  Part of the inspiration behind Quibi? Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, for some reason.

🔟  General Motors, CATL, and Tesla each appear close to producing the mythic “million-mile” car battery

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