5 minutes read time
COVID-19 might be a brand new viral strain, but pandemics are a threat as old as time. In fact, the viruses, bacteria and parasites that cause disease have killed more people throughout history than anything else.
The world has evolved since smallpox was eradicated in 1979, with huge progress in everything from medical science to the way we interact socially. So has technology left us more vulnerable to infectious diseases? Or has it helped minimize their impact?
Technology has long played a part in the spread of infectious diseases. The introduction of maritime travel allowed illness to spread across the world in a way that wasn’t previously possible. The plague and smallpox were spread along popular trade routes, and the Spanish influenza was passed between military camps during the first world war.
Improved connectivity has left us more vulnerable than ever. At the end of 2019, it was possible to reach any country in the world in around 20 hours flying time. On average, over 100,000 flights were taking off per day around the globe, allowing viruses and bacteria to spread at a rapid rate when they might previously have died out.
There’s another downside to heightened connectivity – and that’s the spread of misinformation.
The internet, TV and radio allow governments and medical professionals to offer education and guidance during a pandemic. However, the internet allows misinformation to spread as quickly as the virus. This is a real threat to the public – so much so that the World Health Organization (WHO) has a web page dedicated to debunking COVID-19 myths.
Some harmful misinformation the WHO has warned against include drinking high levels of alcohol and ingesting bleach.
Probably the most obvious way technology has helped during the COVID-19 pandemic is to significantly speed up the process for identifying and understanding the virus, making a possible vaccine viable in record time.
There are a surprising number of other ways technology has helped, too:
Problems with the supply chain and heightened demand left many countries facing a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). Thankfully, the 3D printing community has come together to help.
Ventilator parts and visors are now being made in garages and workshops all over the US, helping to protect those working on the front line.
A Toronto-based AI platform built to monitor health data (Blue Dot) was able to identify the pandemic early on, and predict how it would spread across the world using flight path data. Although this information wasn’t used to its full potential this time, artificial intelligence is set to be a useful tool in pandemic management in the future.
Chatbots have proven a useful tool for both gathering and communicating vast amounts of data during the pandemic.
Those who fell ill with COVID-19 were entering a huge amount of data into chatbots, helping these AI systems learn about symptom patterns. Now, these chatbots have the potential to help overwhelmed medical teams in triaging patients and aiding diagnosis.
As work spaces closed and we retreated into our homes for lockdown, the cloud was a piece of technology that came into its own. Many businesses were able to continue working from home, as email, file sharing and video calls allowed us to collaborate and work together remotely.
Social media has also helped us feel more connected in isolation. Although many of us have been physically distancing over recent months, we’ve been able to socialize online and keep in touch.
When it comes to managing a pandemic within the workplace, there are a number of pieces of technology that claim to be able to help protect your workforce. But is it all useful?
Visitors, employees, service providers, volunteers… By signing everyone in as they come on-site, you’ll be able to quickly and easily report on who has come into contact with who should someone in your organization become ill. People presence solutions are widely regarded as more robust solutions to other ‘contact tracing’ apps we’ve seen popping up of late.
Silicon Valley-based AI company Landing AI has developed technology that works with security cameras to detect if people are keeping a safe physical distance from each other. This data could then be used to understand where workplace layout changes might be required to allow employees more space.
In a similar vein, car manufacturers Ford are trialling wristbands that buzz if a colleague gets too close.
Contact tracing apps are all over the news, and new providers are popping up almost overnight. However, without a proven track record around information security, enterprise organizations should be cautious of using these platforms.
The concept of monitoring indoor air quality isn’t a new one, but it’s something that could be top-of-mind for facilities and operations managers post COVID-19.
While improved air quality has many benefits, there is little evidence to suggest air purifiers can help reduce the spread of coronavirus. Although some purifiers might be strong enough to kill a small number of air borne viral particles, coronavirus is primarily spread by person-to-person contact, or contact with contaminated surfaces.
There are a number of UV light sanitizers on the market, claiming to effectively kill viruses and sanitize your gadgets. However, only the strongest, most aggressive rays (UVC) are capable of killing coronavirus, and to use UVC safely, you need specialist equipment and training. This cleaning method is best left to the experts.
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