April 14, 2020

Can Technology Stop the Pandemic?

Amid encouraging signs that sheltering in place is helping flatten the curve, Americans are increasingly tweeting about the future and wondering when we can safely get back to normal. Last week saw increased Twitter conversation about contact tracing, reaching peak volume on April 10. That was after Google and Apple announced a partnership to use mobile apps and Bluetooth to alert those who come in close contact with individuals who test positive for COVID-19. The announcement comes amid broader public health conversations about the importance of widespread testing and tracing to prevent future outbreaks as people reenter society. Reactions on Twitter were enthusiastic about the promise of technology to increase the effectiveness of traditional tracing methods, and many praised Apple and Google for demonstrating the importance of coming together during times of crisis. While many emphasized protections Apple and Google will put in place to preserve Americans’ privacy, others raised questions about the role – and potential risks – of technology. And as discussion about clearing people to get back to work through antibody testing and certificates is raising HIPAA concerns, expect the privacy conversation to heat up.

The Complex Climate of COVID-19

Despite the images of blue skies over once-smoggy cities populating social media, COVID-19 is not eroding the climate crisis. The UN officially postponed COP 26, which was to be a crucial five-year assessment of progress under the Paris Agreement. In the meantime, three important climate and energy narratives are emerging

  1. It’s true the combination of stay-at-home orders and economic slowdown is both cratering oil prices and drastically cutting air pollution, especially in densely populated urban areas.
  2. But the link between air pollution and COVID-19 deaths offers a stark, real-time snapshot of how pollution threatens public health, most often hitting communities of color hardest. 

As leaders around the world think about “re-opening,” there is a push to combine economic recovery with a grand transition away from fossil fuels and toward a clean energy future.

COVID-19 by the Numbers

Back to Where We Once Belonged?

From polling conducted in early April, most Americans are hesitant to resume normal activity, even after the government lifts physical distancing requirements. Roughly seven-in-ten Americans (71%) say they will wait to see what happens with the coronavirus before resuming their normal activities, even after government social distancing rules are lifted and businesses and schools start to reopen. A fifth of Americans (20%) say they will resume interacting with people in public immediately, and 10% say they will continue to limit contact with other people and their normal daily activities indefinitely. Republicans (31%), those aged 18-29 (25%) and those in rural areas (23%) are more likely to say they will resume their normal activities immediately after the government lifts restrictions. Those aged 50-64 are the most likely to say they will limit contact with people and their daily activities indefinitely (14%). One thing’s for sure: Back to normal won’t look truly normal for a very long time.

The Kids Are Not Alright

Millennials, the generation whose older members came of age in the wake of 9/11 and who entered the job market during the 2008 recession, are facing a new wave of challenges presented by COVID-19. They continue to wrestle with student loan debt and struggle to accrue wealth at the rate of their parents. Roughly half (49%) of younger Americans (49%) report being laid off or furloughed due to the coronavirus crisis compared to 37% of those aged 35-49, 19% of those 65 and over and 29% of those aged 50-64. Additionally, more Americans aged 18-34 (65%) report that they have had working hours or salary reduced due to the coronavirus crisis than other age groups (49% of those aged 35-49, 38% of those aged 50-64 and 19% of those aged 65+). And for Generation C, the children, teens and college grads whose generation has been named for the pandemic, the future is even murkier.