In 1918, the world saw 500 million – one third of the global population – infected with the influenza virus, with 50 million deaths worldwide and roughly 675,000 occurring in the United States.
In 2020, a new virus has swept the globe, with ~450,000+ cases and almost 20,000 deaths in just a few months. The Cornoavirus COVID-19 has taken the world by storm, changing the way we interact as a society: socialize, travel, do business, etc.
As we reshape our thinking to this “new normal,” we are all in “crisis mode.” With all non-essential businesses closing down – save for grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations – we are having to rethink the way we interact. What is considered “essential?” How can we separate – at work, in school, and at home – to prevent the spread of the disease?
There are many ways. We can practice social distancing, deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading the illness. We can close schools and have children learn with online classes. We can work remotely, conducting meetings and delivering services virtually.
With the stock market plummeting amid the sudden economic shock, a pressing question for all companies is: What are the best ways to maintain business continuity? How can companies effectively navigate this period of disruption, protecting their employees from acquiring or spreading COVID-19 while empowering them to carry out the fundamental work of their business – collaborating and being productive from wherever they are?
Adapting to a new way of working remotely can be challenging for employees – especially those who work for industrial companies, many of which have globally-distributed employee populations, supply chains, and customer bases.
So, what sets COVID-19 apart from the 1918 influenza pandemic? In what ways has the nature of work evolved to make us better equipped to manage through this time of crisis?
Let’s take a look at the role of technology during COVID-19 – and explore how connectivity is serving as ammunition to fight the disease.
Commonly referred to as “the deadliest flu,” the 1918 pandemic saw swaths of the population decimated, with no effective drugs or vaccines to treat the disease. To complicate matters, World War I had left parts of the United States with a shortage of physicians and health care workers. Hospitals became so overloaded with flu patients that schools, private homes, and other buildings had to be converted into makeshift hospitals, some of which were staffed by medical students.
A century later, in an eerily similar situation, we are being inundated with news and information about a possible ventilator shortage, as hospitals struggle to care for the ranks of the desperately ill. What’s more, questions of a COVID-19 vaccination loom: Will we be able to develop a vaccine quick enough to prevent the spread of the disease? How will we scale across millions infected or exposed to the virus?
The difference, however, is the speed at which we are able to proactively combat the disease – and ensure the safety and health of the global population. While we are enacting shelter in place measures globally, we are also leveraging various forms of technology to protect the general public and manufacture the medical supplies necessary to test and protect people now, while working toward the first vaccine against the novel coronavirus.
Instead of exposing patients who may display COVID-19 symptoms – or, worse yet, patients who are being treated for unrelated conditions – to the disease in hospitals, medical professionals are encouraging patients to connect remotely to a doctor who can triage their symptoms while they’re still at home. Observing safety protocol measures such as quarantine, patients can call a telemedicine center and speak with a physician who can determine whether they need COVID-19 testing – without exposing anyone else.
Remote connectivity also plays a critical role in the race for a COVID-19 vaccination. Roche Diagnostics uses PTC’s IoT software to monitor and remotely service diagnostic testing equipment used in laboratories worldwide. As the world urgently searches for ways to identify who has the virus, Roche has sprung into action and has been working to develop a diagnostics test for COVID-19. While there are currently no approved treatment options for COVID-19, Roche is actively partnering with the World Health Organization and other global health authorities to accelerate the availability of diagnostic test kits.
The role of technology in fighting COVID-19 extends beyond healthcare, however. With companies worldwide rolling out mandatory remote work for employees and the number of school closures soaring, the challenge is two-fold: 1) How can employees maintain productivity and communication with their work colleagues? and 2) How can parents with school children at home maintain their learning path while away from school?
There’s no easy answer – Who can forget the photobomb of Professor Kelly’s kids interrupting his live interview? – but online learning and virtual technologies can help to reduce downtime for employees, increase upskilling capabilities, and foster remote collaboration so that they may return to work with an advanced level of proficiency and capability.
The challenge of remote work can be especially acute when special expertise is needed to carry out specific on-site tasks – such as operating or repairing complex machinery. As such, PTC is offering its remote assistance product, Vuforia Chalk, at no cost, with no obligations, for all those who feel this technology can help their teams better navigate the COVID-19 crisis and maintain business continuity.
In a similar vein, PTC is also making freely available our Onshape product development software to students around the globe during COVID-19. With the new offering, teachers and students can access computer-aided design, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) technology over the Internet, helping students collaborate on design and enrich their learning.
A century after the 1918 influenza pandemic, we are still facing unprecedented challenges related to public health. Yet, the global economy, and the way we work and live, is changing the way we can combat this newest threat, with robust technologies that fuel remote connectivity, collaboration and online learning, and more.
As we work to mitigate the current crisis, we must continue to lean on the technological capabilities available to us, enabling society to prevail and thrive in the years to come.