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Plan now to use technology to prevent the next crisis

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Peter Roff

It’s time to be honest. Despite all the scientific chatter, nobody yet has a handle on the COVID-19 crisis. No one can pinpoint for certain where or how it started. No one knows when it will end.

The possibility COVID may be with us for some time (despite predictions by Dr. Anthony Fauci and others that we can expect positive news sometime in 2023) is real. By then, if Fauci and others are right, we’ll have learned to live with it, managing the inevitable outbreaks similar to how we handle the flu. That, however, will require planning, making changes to the healthcare device and pharmaceutical approval process, and a reliance on technology.

Operation Warp Speed, the Trump Administration’s initiative to cut federal red tape and get the pharmaceutical industry to work finding a coronavirus vaccine, was a game-changer. It gave every American hope that a solution was on the horizon. The vaccines it produced have largely been effective, however, there’s still uncertainty about their efficacy long-term.

The current thinking is that at least one booster shot will be needed. The emergence of the Delta variant has been a setback, triggering calls for mandates including masks, vaccines and special travel passports. Uncertainty lingers, making it incumbent on leaders in the political, scientific, and media arenas to stay focused on innovative ways to address Americans concerns.

The Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization both say now that COVID is transmitted through tiny droplets and aerosols spread through indoor spaces. Fighting that means thinking differently. To accomplish this, we should rely on private industry initiatives to develop ways to eliminate airborne pathogens and limit the possibility of surface transmissions. When one comes along, we should talk about it and celebrate it because, like the vaccines produced through Operation Warp Speed, it provides hope as well as an added layer of protection.

One technology showing great promise is an air purification system known as ActivePure, originally developed by NASA. The technology seeks out pathogens through a process known as advanced photocatalysis, which sends out submicroscopic particles in real time to deactivate pathogens, including COVID-19 and other viruses.

ActivePure’s proactive air defense system is already being used in high-risk indoor environments including the Cleveland Clinic, The Texas State Capitol, and Philadelphia’s public schools. Additionally, groups like ThermoFisher Scientific are in the process of rolling out new aerosol sensor monitoring technology, potentially allowing hospitals, nursing homes, and schools to track for the presence of the virus, providing critical knowledge to inform mitigation strategies.

Innovators are hard at work creating solutions for retailers as well. Intel’s RealSense TCS, a touchless control software that converts kiosks into touchless interfaces without radically modifying the intuitive user experience. These changes are helping get brick and mortar establishments back in business safely.

No one can predict the future. America’s leadership in the health sciences is a vital part of the process of exploration that will produce novel approaches to block the spread of the pathogens leading to outbreaks of COVID-19 and other viruses.

The lockdowns throughout 2020 did not work as intended – and severely hurt a booming economy. A different strategy is required for the next outbreak. This will require the government to expedite the regulatory approval process in key areas, and partner with forward-thinking start-ups, while embracing new innovations to prepare for the next national health emergency.

Peter Roff is a former UPI and U.S. News & World Report columnist who is now affiliated with several Washington-D.C.-based public policy organizations. Contact Roff at RoffColumns@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff.

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