Besides completely changing our ways of life, the coronavirus has also put innovation on warp speed. We’re seeing the brightest minds work quickly to ensure we know who is infected, who might be infected and how to prevent the spread.
You may have heard President Donald Trump mention that he gets a COVID-19 test several times a week and prefers the one that takes just 15 minutes. I think most people would prefer a 15-minute test, yet I’ve had friends wait up to a week or longer to get results.
Maybe those days are over.
The test that gained Trump’s affection has received emergency use authorization from the Federal Drug Administration. And The Wall Street Journal reported the president plans to buy 150 million of Abbott’s rapid tests for $750 million. So we’re talking $5 each for a test that could be life-changing for people who want to keep working and kids who want to stay in school.
The antigen test is the size of a credit card, uses a simple nasal swab and doesn’t require any extra equipment. You can read the results right from the testing card. Results show up kind of like a pregnancy test: one line means you’re negative and two lines indicate a positive result.
Abbott has created a mobile app that will allow people to show proof of their test to anyone who needs to know. The company says it’s like a “digital health pass.”
“If test results are negative, the app will display a QR code, similar to an airline boarding pass,” according to Abbott. They can then share that QR code with an employer or other entity that requires proof of a negative test.
If the result is positive, a patient receives a message to quarantine and talk with their doctor. Abbott points out the app is not for contact tracing.
Antigen tests, though, are not as sensitive as molecular tests, so the FDA points out patients may need to confirm a negative result from one of these rapid tests with a molecular test, depending on the situation.
Fever is a possible symptom of COVID-19 and temperature-taking has become the norm in many places.
While it’s feasible if there is a limited number of foreheads to check, it can be too time-consuming to take the temperature of everyone entering a hospital or an airport, for instance.
Innovators have come up with a way to scan large numbers of people at a time. Austin, Texas-based Athena is one such company that has created a thermal iPad camera to screen 2,000 people per hour.
A private airport in Washington state and a hospital in Houston are already using the fever-detecting camera. Athena says it’s effective to take aside those who show an elevated temperature for further screening with a medical thermometer. It’s then up to the company or venue to decide whether to allow that person to come inside.
Amazon is also screening employees at its warehouses with thermal cameras, according to Reuters.
In the same way it can be daunting to take the temperatures of countless people, so too can it be overwhelming to task someone with disinfecting an entire building each day.
A team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has designed a germ-killing robot. It’s similar to the small UV-C sanitizers people use to disinfect phones and keys, but the MIT system uses huge UV-C lights built onto a robot base. As it moves around spaces, the lights kill approximately 90% of viruses and bacteria on every surface the light reaches. But it isn’t safe for humans. Good thing this robot works like those robotic vacuums that can map a space and then operate independently. MIT tested it at the Greater Boston Food Bank where it covered a 4,000-square-foot space in the warehouse in 30 minutes.
And finally, LG has announced its face mask of the future will be available in select areas this fall. This wearable air purifier uses HEPA filters to allow wearers to breath in clean, filtered air. The fans within the mask figure out the rate the person is breathing and adjusts their speed to “make breathing effortless.” The battery in the LG PuriCare mask lasts up to eight hours. While it looks bulky and heavy, the company hasn’t disclosed weight. LG also makes no claims regarding COVID-19 or droplets, just that it will “supply fresh, clean air.”
This is likely just the first of companies coming out with their versions of high-tech face masks. They just might be giving the world something it never asked for.
It is appropriate that tech innovation is working in double-time right now. We need all the help we can get to keep our families healthy, in school and at work and living the most normal lives possible.