4 Reasons to Be Thankful for Technology During the COVID-19 Pandemic
By Larry Alton
 

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Technology has been making travel easier for decades. For example, can you imagine airlines having to sell, cancel, and track flights manually? It seems like an impossible task. Without technology, airlines wouldn’t be able to offer near-instant seats on cancelled flights or offer self-booking through a website.

Without technology, you wouldn’t get up-to-the-minute price change email notifications for hotel rooms and car rentals, either.

Under normal circumstances, technology is a blessing to travelers. Here are several reasons to appreciate technology even more during the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Software programs can sift through medical studies

There are currently more than 45,000 medical studies available as part of the White House’s COVID-19 data hub known as CORD-19. This data hub is considered “the most extensive collection of machine readable coronavirus literature to date.”

There is an open invitation for AI researchers to sift through the data to gain unique insights about the incubation, treatment, symptoms, and prevention of the disease.

The sheer volume of data available is too much for humans to sort through page-by-page. Using AI and machine learning algorithms to identify key pieces of data will bring faster understanding to the whole situation.

2. Technology makes traveling safer by limiting personal contact

Despite worldwide bans on non-essential travel, many people need to travel internationally to get home, tend to a family emergency, or access essential medical care. For those who have a legitimate reason to travel, technology creates a safer experience by limiting points of personal contact.

Electronic documentation reduces personal contact

Traditionally, international travelers have been required to carry a physical passport that gets stamped at each destination. When all the pages are filled, the traveler must obtain a new passport.

Although the technology isn’t new, some travelers qualify for electronic passports and electronic visas. An electronic passport is purely digital, while an electronic visa allows travelers to bypass sending a photo copy of their passport to obtain a visa.

Just like electronic passports, there are electronic visa substitutes for certain countries. For example, say a British business traveler obtains an eTA to enter Canada. Applying for an eTA can be done entirely online without requiring any in-person appointments. The lack of in-person appointments eliminates a potential point of contact that could spread the virus.

Likewise, when the business traveler enters Canada, their eTA will contain most of their information in an electronic record. They may be required to show their passport and/or other identifying documents, but interactions with customs and border officials will be brief.

3. Airport and other travel technology is being pushed to the limit

At first glance, this might sound like a bad thing. Why would anyone be thankful that travel technology is being pushed to the limit?

The benefit to having our electronic travel systems pushed to the limit is that if something is going to break, it will break much sooner when the system is under stress. If there are problems in the system, we’ll become aware of these issues quickly.

Since we’re in a time when our travel systems can’t afford to be down for long, it’s almost guaranteed that issues will be swiftly dealt with whether it’s a software issue or a coordination problem. When issues arise outside of an urgent situation, they often go unresolved and cause even more problems.

The need to manage travel safely and efficiently in a post-pandemic world will ensure that all issues will be handled promptly.

5. Technology can predict infection

Although the data is currently limited, researchers from Stanford Medicine want to use wearable tech devices to predict viral infection through data sent to the cloud.

In a new partnership with Fitbit and Scripps Research, researchers want to use smartwatch data to measure heartrate and skin temperature to identify when someone might be fighting off a virus. Their ultimate goal is to curb the spread of viral infections like COVID-19.

In 2017, an algorithm was created to detect infection using data from a change in heart rate from a smartwatch. One study in particular showed that heart rate variation patterns can indicate illness even when the individual is asymptomatic.

The Stanford researchers are currently looking for study participants. Researchers acknowledge that an elevated heart rate isn’t always a sign of infection, but want to investigate to see if they can sort out the different causes.

The sky is the limit

With technology, the sky really is the limit. Every new technological advance has the potential to improve the way we respond to and fight this coronavirus outbreak.

Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer, and researcher who contributes to a number of reputable online media outlets and news sources. A graduate of Iowa State University, I’m now a full-time freelance writer and business consultant.