Is it just me, or have the discussions about ways to combat the COVID-19 coronavirus been thinking small? Yes, we can and should all do our part – maintain physical distancing, stay home when sick, wear a mask, wash and sanitize our hands and space. We are researching vaccines at a breakneck pace and learning a lot of various treatments along the way. But I notice a lack of public discussion about the role other technology can play in reducing the risk of exposure.
I’m not talking about apps on our phones or devices that we wear. I’m talking about traditional engineering, material science and design technologies – the kind that have been making our lives safer for years.
Engineering improvements have reduced the risks of people dying in an earthquake. We build better buildings with stronger materials. We have improved roofing materials to reduce the risk that homes will catch on fire, even in the most severe wildfire seasons. In other parts of the country, new materials are reducing the effects of wind shear, so buildings are better equipped to withstand hurricanes and tornadoes.
This ingenuity is part of our country’s success – from winning battles in World War II to sending people to the moon. We invent. We innovate. We create. We adapt.
Yet our response to the novel coronavirus so far has been binary. States and counties are “open” or “closed.”
Perhaps that was necessary during the early part of the year, when we knew little about how the virus spread, the sickness it caused, or how to kill it. But as our understanding has increased, we should be looking for more approaches than a simple on/off switch.
We know that ultraviolet light reduces the spread of viruses. It has been used in hospitals and medical facilities for years. Sophisticated filtration technology allows the military to enter areas with unknown contaminants and keeps astronauts alive in space.
While public discourse about COVID-19 has been limited to “open/closed,” and vaccines and medical treatments, we should be encouraged that there are a number of companies working to address the disease with innovation and technology. Notably, several companies are right here in Santa Clarita Valley.
They install a variety of UV and filtration devices globally. They are among the many innovators all around the world coming up with technologies that reduce our risk of COVID-19 spread. Surely these technologies can help us fight the virus. Surely they can help us resume indoor activities, get kids back in schools, and workers back in offices. Surely we can come up with strategies beyond long-term vaccines and short-term shutdowns that turn out not to be so short.
Unfortunately, I do not hear much public dialog about how these technologies can reduce exposure risk. The discussion among public health and civic leaders remains limited to a vaccine as the singular solution and continuing shutdowns until then. I certainly hope a vaccine is found quickly and effectively distributed. But in the meantime, there are more tools in the toolbox that can reduce virus spread. If cases of COVID-19 increase again, we need other options than shutting down the economy and isolating ourselves.
We know how to invent and innovate. We know how to create and adapt. We need to find, research, fund and install these technologies now so we can reopen our schools, offices and other indoor spaces. We need to expand our view to beyond the “open/closed” mentality and embrace ways of addressing the virus with innovation and technology.
Holly Schroeder is president and CEO of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corp.