First of all, to anyone who has been directly affected or who has had family or friends directly affected by the current COVID-19 pandemic, our thoughts are with you. We also want to send our thanks and appreciation to all of those fighting on the front lines of this disaster, often risking their own health and safety in the process. You deserve our everlasting gratitude.
For the rest of us for whom this crisis has meant “just” huge home and work-life disruptions and inconveniences, I wanted to take a minute to reflect on how things could have been much, much worse if it weren’t for the important role technology is playing in helping to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.
What started me thinking about this was a note I saw advocating the use of low-cost Raspberry Pi boards for control systems in new ventilators for severely-affected COVID-19 patients. That reminded me of several articles I read recently about Tesla shutting down its car production and temporarily switching to making ventilators. Both of these stop-gap measures were meant to enhance the existing supply of hundreds of thousands of ventilators already delivered worldwide by the medical equipment industry and working overtime to keep as many people alive as possible.
Of course ventilators are only needed after someone has become infected and is ill enough to need help breathing. It’s much better for all of us if we can use technology to stop infections before they happen, or at least slow the rate of new infections once the virus has become established in a new population. Fortunately, technology has helped us to do just that.
We also have new tools to collect and distribute health data. A company called Kinsa has an internet-connected thermometer which can pinpoint areas with higher than normal levels of fevers in the local population. Google can track searches for COVID-19 related symptoms and report where new hotspots are emerging. Local governments and health agencies are compiling data from the testing centers and hospitals in their area and making that information available via the web.
Related communications technologies have also made it possible to continue our work and social lives, albeit in a dramatically changed manner. Most of us in the technology industry (and many, many others in various industries around the world) have been able to both “shelter in place” and continue working. Video calls and conference calls from home have become the new normal, enabled of course by the wide acceptance of notebook computers, cell phones, the internet, and all of their associated software. Now we can order groceries, medicines, and the other necessities of life online, reducing our potential exposure to the virus. We can also socialize with family and friends through videoconferencing, not a perfect substitute for seeing people in person but much better than not communicating at all.
These are just a few of the many ways in which technology has helped us mitigate and manage the effects of the pandemic on our health and daily lives. Thanks in part to technology, we will get through this and hopefully emerge stronger than ever. Please stay safe, everyone.