Public health touches all facets of public life, and when it’s compromised, just about everything is affected. It’s not easy to make the choices necessary to correct a public health crisis, as our businesses, bottom lines, and collective mental health suffer.
While our society navigates the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is clear: we need to drastically improve our public health infrastructure, and scale our efforts nationwide, especially for our first responders on the frontlines. To solve the crisis, we know we need mass testing, disease tracking, and contact tracing. Although the government is organizing its own response, and our first responders are making do with what they have, the private sector is helping to fill in the gaps despite the workforce shortage.
Technology and policies we enact today will set the agenda for future crisis response: the collaboration between public and private partners is more important than ever.
Tracing, testing, and tracking
Countries that have successfully “flattened their curves,” like South Korea, have aggressively pursued contact tracing: identifying an infected individual and tracing all of their movements, contacts, and relationships, to model and therefore contain the viral spread. Their system is largely reliant on patient self-reporting. The local governments send mass text alerts to communities where new cases are identified. Adapting that practice in America, however, presents its own logistical challenges, in addition to financial and political ones.
Instead, Apple and Google are teaming up to build a contact tracing system that uses bluetooth and interoperable apps to identify and alert users of new cases in their communities. Like South Korea’s system, it relies on opt-in public health databases that people voluntarily share their test results with. The system will use bluetooth to alert anyone in their vicinity who may have come in contact with them about possible exposure, without doxxing the positive tester.
Meanwhile, coders around the country have been modeling and tracking the spread of the virus for the average American, pulling in allsource data to keep up with the demand for information in uncertain times. At the same time, Biotech companies are scrambling to create rapid tests to provide fast and cost-effective tests at scale. The current method takes five to six hours using PCR tests (like the ones you might have done in bio class), but new rapid tests can take less than 30 minutes.
All of these efforts combine to create a system that can scale our pandemic response for COVID-19 and future diseases. They work in harmony with our government’s response, which guarantees the resources needed to achieve these projects, while our innovators in the private sector creatively pursue solutions in this uncharted territory. The foundations are being created before our eyes, but the next step is putting it into practice.
Emergency response at scale
This data does more than just inform the average American – it materially impacts the way our first responders and healthcare professionals respond to this and future crises. To perform the kind of centralized monitoring necessary, we need to get the data from our smartphones and our devices to the first responders who can take action on it.
The COVID-19 crisis has revealed many of the cracks in our infrastructure, specifically how we mobilize local resources to meet a national (or international) challenge. Creating emergency response at scale – by instantly sharing learnings and data – is vital to getting that done, but it’s something we’ve only recently started talking about.
RapidSOS is proud to work alongside the heroes on the ground in achieving this mission: we’re working closely with our partners in tech and public safety to help combat the crisis. We’re welcoming new data partners on board, and are accelerating rollouts to ensure critical data is getting into the hands of first responders. That includes medical data, user profile data, location data, and more.
However, we know we’re not the only ones in this fight – in fact we’re just one of many. We’re a humble part of a concerted effort to modernize our public safety infrastructure to improve response times, situational awareness, and the health and safety of our first responders. There are many lessons to learn from this pandemic, but chief among them is the need for more data than ever before. We have the heroes we need to overcome this, they just need the right tools to get it done.