Smith Brain Trust / April 20, 2020

Reacting to COVID-19, and Planning for Future Pandemics

Expert to launch portal for businesses with focus on ventilators, PPE

Reacting to COVID-19, and Planning for Future Pandemics

SMITH BRAIN TRUST  With every crisis comes a complex and unique set of challenges. During COVID-19, slow adoption of key data gathering techniques and supply chain issues have made efforts to combat the pandemic more difficult than they already were.

Maryland Smith’s Louiqa Raschid says the failure to adopt widespread contact tracing and supply chain tracking poses key challenges from a data management perspective.

Raschid and colleagues recently received funding from the National Science Foundation to set up a portal for entrepreneurs and manufacturers with a focus on ventilators, masks and personal protective equipment, or PPE.

Locating protective equipment and allocating resources to meet needs has proved one of the key challenges in combating the current pandemic. For example, she says, recent trends include repurposing materials to create items in demand. However, those repurposed items are tricky to keep track of, Raschid says.

“If we look at masks and shields specifically, they could be created using different materials and assembled by people at home,” says Raschid, an information systems professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “In that case, we’re looking at a completely different supply chain and managing all of those items is a challenge.”

Knowing who has been in contact with whom is another challenge.

Raschid and others are advocating for wider – voluntary – use of contact tracing, a system of identifying and notifying people who have come in close proximity to an infected person, based on smartphone GPS data.

The technology would be particularly helpful with the current outbreak because people with COVID-19 can be asymptomatic and interact with others for days without knowing.

“Supposing you have an app on your phone and you tested positive for COVID-19, what you could do is share the data that the app has collected and it would record everyone else who has that app whom you came close to without saying where and when,” says Raschid.

Keeping people safe and healthy, while keeping privacy protections in place is key, Raschid says. Collecting valuable information is important, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of sacrificing privacy, she says.

“Devices that we use in our day-to-day lives give off so many traces of where we are,” says Raschid. “Governments have to be very careful with contact tracing procedures because of all of the privacy issues that come with it.”

The unforeseen and unpredictable developments of COVID-19 convey why preparing for crises in advance remains difficult from a data perspective, Raschid says. But we can’t wait for a crisis to appear to start planning.

“What you want to do,” she says, “is try to look at integrating, in a non-disaster situation, software or capabilities that help prepare for and react to disaster situations in the future.”



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