How Digital Tools Can Help Us Beat the Coronavirus
In this week's issue: ICU Surges, Bars Closing, Hammers and Dances, Quarantine Pods, and Post-Quarantine Dating.
Hi all, greetings from Santa Monica!
I didn’t want to write about the coronavirus this week. I was going to write about heart rate variability and neuromodulation – fun stuff! Sadly, it’s impossible to ignore what’s happening right now in our country.
Last week saw new Covid-19 cases skyrocket in Florida, Arizona, Texas, and other states.
Texas Medical Center (the world’s largest medical complex) reported ICU capacity hit 100% for the first time during the pandemic and was on pace to exceed “unsustainable surge capacity” of ICU beds.
Raising the Bar
“Covid is raging through the bar community. When bars reopened, we tried to be safe and responsible. There was no safe and responsible way.”
Watching Neff, I thought: This Texas bartender is delivering a more effective public health message than anything we’ve seen from Trump’s coronavirus task force.
I joined Baratunde Thurston’s Live on Lockdown show Sunday and shared my take on the public health catastrophe in the US:
Failed leadership. In March, Tomas Pueyo introduced a powerful metaphor to help guide our Covid-19 response: The Hammer & the Dance. The hammer (a tough, no-nonsense lockdown) worked in places like San Francisco. The dance is the delicate balancing act that comes after we use the hammer. If we had gotten the dance right, we could have returned to a quasi-normal version of life with a small rise in cases.
Inconsistent messaging on Covid’s risks and the need to distance. See this damning NY Times piece: How the World Missed Covid-19’s Silent Spread.
Politicization of mask wearing. I was part amused, part horrified by these fake mask exemption badges from the made-up "Freedom to Breathe Agency."
A new Axios report shows most of the states facing large coronavirus outbreaks today didn't build up their public health systems enough ahead of time. This means testing and contact tracing. States like Arizona, Florida and Texas had months to learn from the mistakes of New York and other early hotspots, yet find themselves now in similar situations.
Big cities (NYC, SF) that took the biggest early hit from the coronavirus are now ahead of the curve in developing the public health infrastructure to manage the crisis in the future.
The Power of Feedback Loops
Last week I wrote about the risk analysis tool I’m building for the coronavirus. The idea is to offer a personalized risk-level assessment based on age, location and lifestyle.
I shared the model with Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipitsch. He wrote in an email:
"Everyone is struggling to make rational decisions about individually small, cumulatively potentially large, and hard-to-estimate risks."
From my work in digital health, I’ve seen how digital tools can nudge people toward healthier behavior. Whether it’s a Fitbit or smart mattress and sleep tracker. Soon we’ll see more personalized nutrition trackers, continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), heart rate variability trackers and technologies to promote smoking cessation.
Successful digital health tools leverage the power of feedback loops: The positive feeling you get when you hit 10,000 daily steps or get a 90% sleep quality rating. I think the same kind of feedback loops, built into easy-to-use digital tools, can help people internalize Covid-19 risks and make safer decisions.
"Anybody who doesn’t change their mind a lot is dramatically underestimating the complexity of the world we live in.” - Jeff Bezos
Masks and Shields
What do Nobel Laureates Harold Varmus & Bengt Holmström; Editors in Chief of Nature, Lancet; medical thought leaders Dr. Eric Topol and Dr. Sid Mukherjee and 100+ scientists have in common? They support wearing masks:
“Scientific evidence is strong that mask use can help save lives, restore jobs, and slow the pandemic.”
We may be seeing more face shields. There’s growing evidence the eyes are a likely transmission route for SARS-CoV-2. A study from China showed ophthalmologists were dying due to occupational exposure in the pandemic’s early months.
To Pod or Not to Pod
“It might be awkward, difficult and even risky. But joining a social bubble might just save your sanity.”
Earlier this month The New York Times ran The Dos and Don’ts of Quarantine Pods.
I recently did a quarantine pod with 4 friends at a house in Palm Springs. I needed it. After 10 weeks alone in my one-bedroom apartment, I was ready to paint a face on a broomstick and start having conversations with the broom.
People are rightly concerned about safety when it comes to planning a quarantine pod. There are 3 main challenges.
Who: Find people that are being as careful as you are. The smaller the pod, the better. Pods of two families are best, with (ideally) 5 to 10 people total.
What: Set firm ground rules. What kinds of activities are OK, and what’s off-limits? My friend Geoff drafted a 5-page safety protocol for his family and others to follow. Ideally, everyone gets tested 48 hours before the trip.
Where: Airbnb rental activity is back up to last year’s levels. Road trips and staycations are on the rise. City folks I know are looking for spots with outdoor space and access to nature.
We need to think creatively about bringing people together for economic functions and for social reasons. As humans we need social interaction. There’s a reason solitary confinement is one of the worst punishments for prisoners.
We should be figuring out how people in isolation can connect with other people as safely as possible. It won’t be completely safe — but neither is complete isolation.
See who can hold more jelly beans behind their face mask without spilling.
Share an order of mozzarella sticks after first sterilizing them in an autoclave.
A sensual third-date unmasking.
A fun pedal through the park on a custom-built six-foot-spaced tandem bicycle.
Do what you’ve always done on a date: dinner, followed by a cocktail, and then back to your apartment, to rigorously sponge each other down with white-wine vinegar.
Until next week,
Daniel Zahler (aka “still washes hands long enough to sing Happy Birthday 2 times”)
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By Daniel Zahler
I’m Daniel, a healthcare and life sciences consultant based in Santa Monica, California. Every Monday I write an email newsletter with perspectives on health and wellness trends, and strategies & tactics on how to optimize cognitive, physical and emotional health.