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  • Writer's picturedocschleg

Innovation in the Age of Pandemic

Experts tell us this virus will likely be an issue for years. And the public despairs. We think about what it will be like if we have to live the last month for two more years. Messages like this in the media have been falsely dichotomized into either "bleak reality" or "false hope." It is true that many messages can be categorized this way, but I want to suggest that there is at least a third category: hope. Let me give you one example:

Professionals at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL, or, "The Lab") have designed a ventilator that can be built with existing, off-the-shelf parts. And it works, of course. This technique allows these things to be immediately mass-produced, and somewhat cheaply.

So, you might ask, why is this a message of hope? The virus is still out there.

Remember the original reason governors announced a shelter in place: to "flatten the curve." Other experts were predicting that, based on the rate and nature of transmission of this virus from person to person, the numbers of people needing treatment (esp. ventilators) in order to not perish from this illness would quickly exceed the resources (e.g., ventilators) available. We sheltered in place not for the sake of eradicating the virus (experts told us this was not a likely outcome), but to slow the spread of the virus so we wouldn't run out of medical equipment and thus increase the death rate due to inadequate resources. That was a mouthful. Lack of equipment means lots more preventable deaths, and so we shelter in place.

We need to be careful about what-if scenarios, but if medical resources were less of an issue, I suspect the Official response to the virus would have looked much different.

The point of this is not to find fault with any particular group. Honestly, I still have to force myself to wear a mask when I go to Target, so blame my attitude and selfishness for why the virus is still such a major problem. The point is that hope in innovation is a real hope, and it is likely going to be providence through innovation that releases us from the grip of this virus. The Lab provides evidence of that hope.

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