Viewpoint: Why Tech Didn’t Save Us From COVID-19
Technology has failed the US and much of the rest of the world in its most important role: keeping us alive and healthy. As I write this, more than 380,000 are dead, the global economy is in ruins, and the covid-19 pandemic is still raging. In an age of artificial intelligence, genomic medicine, and self-driving cars, our most effective response to the outbreak has been mass quarantines, a public health technique borrowed from the Middle Ages.
Nowhere was the technology failure more obvious than in testing. Standard tests for diseases like covid-19 use polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a more than 30-year-old chemistry technique routinely used in labs around the world. Yet although scientists identified and sequenced the new coronavirus within weeks of its appearance in late December—an essential step in creating a diagnostic—the US and other countries stumbled in developing PCR tests for general use. Incompetence and a sclerotic bureaucracy at the US Centers for Disease Control meant the agency created a test that didn’t work and then insisted for weeks that it was the only one that could be used.
Photo courtesy of Engin_Akyurt.