A Different Way to Strategize Covid-19 Relief

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Along with millions of teenagers across the globe, I too am quarantined in my home. At first, I was overjoyed about the amount of time I could spend relaxing and mindlessly scrolling through social media. But I realized that even I, a teenager, could not scroll through Instagram forever without going crazy. Soon, I abandoned scrolling through Instagram and instead resorted to staring and my ceiling sorting through my feelings and thoughts. 

Why didn’t we take the outbreak seriously? Why were world governments so secretive?  What can we be doing better? 

My thoughts were all centered around the frustration I had with our response as a global community to this pandemic. My anger soon, however, turned into sadness for the sacrifices being made by our doctors and other healthcare professionals on the front lines. Soon I began a descent into  what-ifs. 

What if we did this? What if we did that instead? 

Within the afternoon I came up with,  what I believe to be, an actionable plan to properly combat this pandemic. 

I think we are all in agreement when we say that healthcare workers are incredibly overworked and overexposed. Not only is the current system unfair to medical professionals, but also an underuse of our resources. The Covid-19 is a global pandemic that has affected more than 500,000 people and claimed more than 20,000 people’s lives, with those numbers climbing up every hour. However, despite these circumstances, we are still treating the Coronavirus the same way we would have if it was the early 2000’s, placing countless lives in danger. 

Our current system entails setting up testing centers near epicenters of outbreaks. From 7:00 A.M. There are long lines of cars with scared and overwhelmed people waiting to be tested. The truth is, many of these people end up getting sent home. Overall, the current system is inoperative. Although routinely sterilized, testing centers are crowded, increasing the likelihood of exposure. We risk our doctors even more and those who aren’t sick can now contract the virus. With the technology available to us today, we should not be relying on the same baseless solutions that we used to battle Influenza and SARS all those years ago. 

Global epidemics should not translate to comfortable solutions but radical, out of the box ideas. So, I propose a new system. One that properly leverages the existing resources, both human and technological, to mitigate this disaster.  

The Plan

Instead of sending people to doctors, I propose sending doctors to the people. Hear me out, we can repurpose trucks to create a testing center on wheels. Even something like a standard Uhaul truck will work perfectly.In every truck we can have a team of about 5 -7 medical professionals (numbers are arbitrary and can be changed accordingly) along with hand sanitizer and testing kits. Depending on the area, population density, and the number of cases the number of cohorts in an area can vary. These doctors could make runs to households that suspect Coronavirus and gather the essential data needed to run a test. 

Some of you may be questioning the efficiency of such a plan. Originally I was too. However, I realized that we have a free resource that could easily sidestep such a hurdle. By using technology such as Google maps, the professionals can coordinate runs while also being efficient. How? Google Maps allows a person to input multiple stops and provides the most efficient route to reach  all the desired locations. Such a plan will allow all the suspecting residents in an area to be tested within one or two days and will drastically reduce exposure of the virus. 

Of course, testing centers should not be eliminated completely. There should be doctors in the testing centers processing the data collected from these runs and also checking on patients that are in a more critical condition or whose condition is less clear and thus requires direct person-to-person attention. Having doctors address directly only those suspected to have more severe cases and limit exposure and prevent the death rate from climbing.

However, I acknowledge that we are severely understaffed. Which is why it is now, more than ever, important that we implement an all hands on deck policy. Staffing is yet another area that we are not utilizing all of our resources.  There are currently residency students that have the expertise to get out on the field whose talents are going wasted. We have pediatric doctors with the qualifications that are currently home because their practices have been shut down. In addition, we have non-general doctors such as dentists (whose area of expertise is poking and prodding in the mouth area) that are closed but can provide so much assistance. If need be, we can call in the most promising students of our universities to assist. These are all extremely qualified people who have the training to be the medical professionals on board the trucks to run the tests. Our healthcare workers choose their professions to answer the call of those who are in need. I have no doubt that they will step up to when we need them the most. 

How can we test people if we don’t know where they are? We need a reporting system that would provide professionals with the information on where sick patients are located. We can utilize the personnel already sitting behind telephones waiting to answer calls for emergencies. Of course, we would have to leave behind some people to cater to non-virus related emergencies. However, the remainder of the call personnel can gather names, symptoms, and addresses.

But a solution that will truly be one fitting of this time that can also serve as a complement to people on telephones is one that utilizes the brainpower of our youth. The number of students taking computer-related classes has been slowly growing. Coding isn’t a skill reserved for those at the top of tech companies anymore, it is becoming a life skill. Our college and even high school students can create simple software where people can report their name, age, address, and symptoms online.If creating a national or global system is not feasible we could have teams of students working to create a system compatible with their local hospitals. Maybe even a system per state or larger areas depending on the situation. Even if it’s something as simple as using a Google Form collecting data connected to a spreadsheet that organizes it . Such a system would only leave a filtration software left to be coded. Cases can be filtered into three categories: critical, moderate, and mild allowing officials to decide how to tackle each case.

Those in a critical condition can be taken to the hospital immediately to be seen by a doctor. People falling under the moderate and mild conditions can be addressed by the mobile testing center and progress from there. Naturally, there is a possibility that people are misreporting symptoms  and that, unfortunately, will have to be dealt with no matter what kind of system we employ. 

Our use of our youth doesn’t have to end there. I have seen countless articles detailing how a teenager with access to a 3-D printer was able to print crucial parts of a respirator that is not readily available and donating them to hospitals. Many affluent schools today have 3-D printers and with some simple design sharing, the number of respirators available could increase exponentially. Not only is this a good use of resources, providing real-life experience to our youth, but also greatly increasing the number of people our hospitals can treat. It was because respirators were limited that Italian doctors had to start choosing whose life theycan save. With 3D printing, we can ensure that no doctor ever has to make such a call again.  

But some may still be skeptical pointing out a glaring problem: our lack of testing kits. Although this shortage is a problem today, I doubt it will remain one for long. Recently, an Indian team of doctors in Georgia created a functional testing kit for the Coronavirus within a day which they have started utilizing and have reported remarkable accuracy. There are even reports that companies are creating test kits that can be sent directly home. (Although, that seems far less likely). What I’m trying to say is, we have everyone from doctors to corporations working around the clock to create functional kits,  and mass-produce them. Within the next couple of days or the next week, our access to testing kits will be a problem of the past. 

The Plan in Action

Now that I’ve expanded on the details of the plan I want to put it all together under a more cohesive structure. 

  1. First, a patient will log on to the coded software or make a call allowing them to report essential information: their name, age, address, and symptoms. (or any other information deemed necessary)
  2. This information will be processed by a filtering software that will categorize this person as a critical, moderate, or mild patient.
  3. Critical patients will be advised to visit hospitals immediately. Moderate and mild patients will be addressed by a cohort of medical professionals on a mobile testing center. 
  4. Mobile testing centers will be equipped with medical professionals who will use mapping software to reach a person’s house. Upon arrival (after taking necessary precautions) they will take temperature and other data needed to run a successful test. Given their expertise, they will also make general recommendations to the person and family, if they have any, for what they can expect. Cohorts of doctors can split up and repeat this process many times to cover the needed ground. 
  5. ER doctors and other healthcare workers specifically trained to deal with the pandemic will treat patients currently in critical stages or those with cases that are far less clear, limiting exposure to them and others while making smarter use of resources. 
  6. Testing centers will try to process data as quickly as possible, getting those at risk to the care of a doctor immediately and providing those who are not infected with some pleasant news. 

It is times such as this that we desperately need creative solutions. Implementing the plan I have detailed above could truly be effective in flattening the curve. By spreading out our medical professionals we can quickly treat people before their condition becomes critical and BEFORE they have had the opportunity to spread it to anyone else. 

The truth is, pandemics and other disasters will continue to happen so we have a responsibility to think creatively and respond to problems innovatively. If we don’t, we risk prolonged disaster which could have unprecedented consequences in the long run. 

As always, I invite comments and hope we can spark a discussion on how to handle this epidemic. Maybe, we all might even be able to spark change. If anything, I hope my post has inspired you to use the extra time on your hands to think big. When the world falls to chaos, no idea is too wild. We need our creative thinkers and problem solvers now more than ever. I hope you all stay safe and healthy.  Keep sharing, keep thinking, keep impacting! 

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