Over the past 30+ days, we’ve been living in a world of self-isolation in our homes.
We now need to turn our focus and attention to how our government leaders will re-open cities to public life.
One of the key questions is what role technology will play in this effort? In addition, how much will the federal government be involved?
A recent article in the New York Times by Aaron E. Carroll, highlighting public health officials’ recommended guidelines for making the decision lays out four criteria as a baseline for each jurisdiction:
- Hospitals must be able to safely accommodate all COVID-19 patients.
- The country must be able to test everyone who needs testing, which will probably amount to approximately 750,000 tests per week.
- The state must be able to monitor confirmed cases and trace the contacts of the people they may have exposed.
- The number of cases needs to decrease every day, for 14 days.
Ohio is one of the states that has announced that it will re-open on May 1st. It remains to be seen whether Ohio meets the criteria mentioned above by May 1st and if not, what impact that will have on the decision to re-open.
There have been discussions about who gets to work outside the home, if rotations can be implemented for employees to work from home, how to abide by social distancing recommendations in the workplace, how and where to test people and monitor new outbreaks, where to send people who may have been exposed, and what technologies to use to make all that happen.
There have also been discussions about a national surveillance system which would draw on detailed information collected from multiple private-sector databases. This would involve federal officials continuously tracking elements like hospital beds, ventilators, flow of patients in and out of hospitals, etc. This would allow the government to rush resources to the most impacted areas.
In the European Union, authorities have been working on the ability to track new outbreaks as lockdown restrictions are lifted. This could prove challenging due to privacy concerns. But the European Commission on Wednesday still issued guidelines for building apps that citizens can use on a voluntary basis to aid in the response. The fact that they are voluntary seems likely to limit their effectiveness.
Meanwhile, if we really want to gain a better understanding of lessons learned for re-opening the economy, one can look to China, where the government and tech industry have come together to collaborate.
Dan Grover, a product designer and entrepreneur who formerly lived in Guangzhou, posted a detailed blog about this which is worth reading. (http://dangrover.com/blog/2020/04/05/covid-in-ui.html)
China’s apps played a pivotal role in supporting some of the most effective tactics the country used in fighting COVID-19, including the use of fever clinics and the strict quarantining of individuals based on their risk level.
Every major Chinese app has added dedicated hubs for the Coronavirus. They have smoothly integrated multiple tools to help people get through the crisis, including:
- Statistics: Figures from the National Health Commission.
- Exposure checks: Multiple tools let people check whether other passengers of specific planes and trains they’d been on had been diagnosed. This information is aggregated by the State Council.
- E-Medicine: Maps direct people to the nearest fever clinics and ICUs, online consultations and prescriptions, as well as to psychological counseling.
- E-Commerce: Masks, hand sanitizer and more, available through each app’s preferred partners. Additional tools let users check the quality of a mask by giving its serial number, and report price gouging.
- Tools for Quarantine: Before Health QR Codes (described below) launched, other tools helped individual communities take roll calls and keep records.
It seems that what occurred in China was a bottom-up approach, whereby local municipalities and tech companies devised response efforts that eventually were put together into a national response. Similar to what has occurred in various US cities, there was a strong desire to return to work.
The Hangzhou municipal government issued guidelines to companies on how to gradually re-open, with different zones of the city on a schedule.
Unlike other cities passing similar policies at the time, they also established a digital platform for reporting workers’ health, gradually white-listing more enterprises to re-open.
The Health QR code is scanned before admission into buildings and returns one of three color codes: for admission, to quarantine for seven days, or for ordering people to quarantine for 14 days. The codes are issued by an algorithm that takes into account a person’s self-reported answers on a health questionnaire, and the public health conditions of areas they travel to.
After reading his blog, one has to wonder what our federal government is doing in conjunction with Silicon Valley. It seems we can no longer expect our federal government to lead us out of this crisis.
Some good news is that Apple and Google announced that they are partnering on COVID-19 contact tracing technology.
We will have to depend on our local and state officials to guide us through the re-opening of our states.
Please continue to be safe and remain healthy.