COVID-19 is changing how we live our lives. It’s done so in an extreme way. But we should always be concerned about the threat of infections that surround us. Unfortunately, to this day, there is no reasonable general purpose reporting system in place to help us make decisions to avoid these threats. Why not? Does it make sense that in an era of data availability that the population must remain generally ignorant about the level of risk from infectious diseases?
A Weather Analogy
We scan through weather reports every day. We listen to meteorologists—scientists who are experts in weather—in order to make decisions about where to go and when. And the work done by meteorologists and weather people help keep us safe from dangerous weather. Why should infectious disease be any different?
As it stands, networks are constantly bombarding people with discussions about COVID-19. But they’re doing so in a very unsophisticated way. They’re not generally relying on discussions of science, but rather political views. They’re also not doing too much to help inform the public about what to do, or discussing infectious threats beyond SARS-CoV-2. Infectious weather reports could cover a wide range of threats.
And just like with regular weather reports, we could plan our day accordingly. We can choose to order takeout rather than go to a restaurant if the weather report is bad. We can pay extra care in avoiding physical contact with one another as well. Each day, we can adjust our routines slightly based on the infection weather report, just like we might if the weather report called for severe thunderstorms.
Laying The Foundation
The initial groundwork for such a weather report has been laid by the paper, Voluntary Cyclical Distancing: A potential alternative to constant level mandatory social distancing, relying on an ‘infection weather report’, which is in the preprint stage. The paper compares a fixed model of social distancing, which lasts for about two months to a model of cyclical distancing informed by an infection risk index. The general idea is that a single extreme social distancing event is not effective. But long term voluntary distancing could work, and not just for the current epidemic, but for infectious diseases in general.
There’s still a lot to do, but with additional research, it should be possible to give a detailed report of current infectious threats, and help inform people. The discussion covered in the preprint is only of an index, which would be useful in making decisions. But, in order to utilize the index, the population needs to be well informed on what they mean and what they should do. This issue again is where the analogy to current weather programming becomes useful. Entire programs could be dedicated to helping people better understand infection risks, utilizing the data that’s being made available, and keeping themselves safe.
Who and How?
The goal of the paper was to suggest an index, rather than suggest who should be responsible for gathering the data and reporting the index. However, Promote.Health could very well take point in the effort. The index would require a lot of information. Essentially, every day someone would have to randomly sample members of the population for different infections.
There is some concern about privacy, but that’s true with any public health surveillance. It’s honestly a hell of a lot less intrusive than the current lockdowns that are in place. And the data that’s needed is an aggregate, rather than information about any given person. In fact, the more distributed and less biased the data, the better, in general, which is why random sampling is useful.
This random sampling could be combined with non-random data from clinics, and integrated through a model to create a final index. With luck, a robust model could not only calculate an index for a given day, but also predict ahead by a few days and perhaps upwards of a few weeks head, just as weather predictions do.
And who knows? Maybe in the future we’ll have a whole network dedicated to the topic, just like we have networks dedicated to weather and climatology right now. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Regarding funding, given how expensive wide scale constant testing will be, we would like to do as much as possible to leverage internal capital generation through PHC (our public health monetizing token).