Saying that the outbreak of COVID-19 changed the world is an understatement. It rocked industries to the core, altered the way we conduct business, and forced people into changing their daily routines. And while modern technology provided plenty of benefits, which we’ll outline in a moment, don’t get us wrong. The eruption of the virus was a terrible thing. It led to the deaths of millions and caused temporary or permanent damage to who knows how many. So, don’t forget that while we focus on the positive indicators of how technology is helping in COVID-19.
Flow of information
The existence of the Internet made an incredible difference after the epidemic hit. It allowed the official health sources across the world to publish the newest changes and findings, for one. Also, access to a large population made statistics and studies more accurate. As a result, governments became more effective at monitoring and reporting data, and imposing and modifying policies on a daily, sometimes even hourly basis. Citizens also had an easier time staying up to date by accessing the latest information via government-run websites. Many countries also implemented lightweight smartphone apps, pushed social media announcements, or sent SMS notifications. Simultaneously, the influx of official information helped outshine an equally large stream of false information that rose out of ignorance or fear.
Exchanging information globally, without delay, affected ways technology is helping in COVID-19 in two major ways:
Digital conferences allow hundreds of reputable doctors worldwide to present a thesis, give opinions, debate and conclude things jointly, leading to the discovery of helpful drugs. Additionally, AI (Artificial Intelligence) had a role in these methods:
- Datasets. Created via AI, which scans relevant research papers at rapid speeds, gaining an understanding of viral protein structures. The algorithm can then be trained via machine learning to propose potentially beneficial contents of drugs (later vaccines).
- AlphaFold. A project of Allen Institute for AI and Google DeepMind. It’s a revolutionary system that predicts 3D structures of proteins based on their genetic sequence.
- Atomic 3D maps. Breakthrough made by the researchers from the National Institutes of Health and the University of Texas at Austin. The map can display isolated spike protein, a part of the virus that attaches and infects human cells, which helps predict its permutations.
People could donate computing power from their devices (computers, laptops, smartphones) to aid the search for the COVID-19 vaccine via a supercomputer that predicted spike protein mutations. The project that made it possible was named Folding@home and created by researchers at Stanford University.
Detection and diagnosis
Here’s how modern technology helps COVID-19 detection and diagnosis:
A clear sign technology is helping in COVID-19 can be witnessed during every medical professionals’ workday. They’re lined up 6 feet apart, waiting to take a photo of a QR code taking them to a daily screening survey. The questions help them recall experiencing any symptoms since they’ve previously left work. If they’re asymptomatic, a nurse uses an infrared thermometer to check body temperature and clear them for work. They use a smart card to get through the front door, and then only enter rooms the system allows them to. This limits exposure to the virus if an infected person doesn’t know it.
Instead of hogging the already limited space at hospitals, civilians can:
- Talk to a chatbot. Using the same technology as screening devices, chatbots use natural language processing capability to ask patients a series of questions. Not only can this ascertain their symptoms and exposure, but also direct them to the nearest hospital with vacancies.
- Schedule a visit. After online registration, a patient can schedule visitation from a nurse in protective gear. A physician monitors the exam from a tablet the nurse wears and can request further testing besides checking vital signs and collecting a nasal swab.
- Take a drive-through test. Same as above, but safer. Patients remain in their cars instead of houses and only have to roll down their windows briefly, limiting close contact.
Medical history and clinical care
We discussed how technology is replacing jobs, and mentioned medical technology under method 5. We’d like to highlight monitoring and interacting with patients remotely as specifically valuable. Doctors and nurses could also administer drugs remotely where applicable, which benefits high-risk patients. Speaking of high-risk, AI algorithms are now capable of using OCR to convert medical documents into text and create a digital database containing patients’ medical history. Al can also identify parameters that make the patient in peril of clinical deterioration. And, through AI-based risk assessment, algorithms can make early diagnoses and suggest treatments that would benefit the specific patient.
While invasive, population tracking through facial recognition (even with the mask on!) is necessary to keep us safe. In this case, searching and identifying infected individuals, and determining who they’ve been in contact with. Afterward, the system can double-check if the infected individual remained in quarantine. Moreover, it can warn them they broke the rules. For example, an AI solution by a Chinese company named Baidu can screen up to 200 people per minute. It can even simultaneously detect changes in their body temperature while they’re moving.
Modern technology is responsible for a revolutionary mRNA vaccine that doesn’t use a live or weakened version of the virus. Instead, they instruct our bodies to produce a spike protein. This triggers an immune system response and gets rid of the mRNA instructions when the antibodies appear. Also, mass vaccination would’ve been an organizational disaster without technology, and would significantly elongate the time needed to achieve collective immunity. With it, people can sign up, schedule and finish vaccination safely, and get notified when the next round is due. Also, laboratory serology tests show antibodies in our blood, confirming the vaccine worked.
Here are 2 ways technology is helping in COVID-19 by allowing social distancing:
Contactless delivery is pivotal for the delivery of vaccines, medications, protective gear for healthcare professionals, and bare necessities (food, water, sterilization, COVID-19 test kits) for both hospitals and citizens. In China, instead of humans keeping a physical distance, they use autonomous robots, cars, and drones.
This allows employees and students to fulfill their obligations from seclusion. Technology in education and the workplace is also responsible for reducing the negative worldwide economic effects of COVID-19 without compromise in isolation of humans.