Why Are We Waiting Like This?

Charles Crumpley
Editor and Publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal

We’ve all been sitting in our homes for five months now. We’re waiting for a vaccine. Many businesses are operating at a low level or not operating at all, waiting for a vaccine. Movie theaters are closed, in-person meetings aren’t being held, dine-in sections at restaurants are roped off, and air travel has been squeezed down to 1950s level. All because we’re waiting for a vaccine.

Let’s think for a minute. Shouldn’t we do more than just wait?

Surely we can be more creative. We are perfectly capable of coming up with additional ways to be safe from the coronavirus. Instead of just waiting for the magic bullet of a vaccine, why can’t we come up a suite of methods that would reduce risk to the point where we feel comfortable about resuming our normal lives, or something close to normal?  We are, after all, Americans. Creativity and innovation are what we do.

I mean, we’ve all learned to live with masks, social distancing and hand sanitizer. That’s a great start. But why stop there?

For example, couldn’t we use more portable air purifiers with high-efficiency particulate absorbing filters? And since ultraviolet light effectively kills viruses, why couldn’t we employ UV much more?

We published an article in the Aug. 3 issue of the Business Journal about a Valencia company that makes a kind of tower that emits ultraviolet light. Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital is one of 14 hospitals in Southern California that uses them, Reporter Amy Stulick wrote. But we could put such devices to work in all manner of other buildings, such as office towers and retail outlets. You shouldn’t be in the room when they emit UV light, but they could be activated at night when they would kill viruses like a bug zapper electrocutes flying insects. In the morning, you could walk into your office or store feeling confident that it is free of live viruses. And germs, for that matter.

You may have seen small hand-held wands that emit UV light. Their effectiveness in killing viruses to date has been suspect, but Boeing last week reported that it is working on developing an improved UV wand that it could use on its planes and in its cockpit. It would eliminate the use of alcohol or other liquid disinfectants that could ruin sensitive electronic equipment. Here’s the point: If an effective wand that was safe to use could be developed, it could become a standard feature at gasoline pumps and ATM machines – wherever people routinely touch things. I can’t help but wonder why we didn’t jump on that five months ago.

Improved testing is another front. You may have seen recently that the Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of a cheap and fast saliva test to detect COVID-19. Since it is using a so-called open source protocol, it means other labs can quickly scale up similar tests. “This could be one of the first major game changers in fighting the pandemic,” one former health official reportedly tweeted.

I feel like we are all captive actors in the absurdist play “Waiting for Godot.” We are illogically sitting around, waiting for a vaccine to arrive. But a vaccine may be months away or even longer, and there is no assurance that it will be quickly deployable or even very effective. After all, in the play Godot never arrives.

Just think. If we employed better HVAC filtration systems, more UV light and fast, cheap and accurate testing along with all the hand washing and mask wearing we’re already doing, wouldn’t you feel safer going to work or sitting down in a restaurant or resuming most aspects of the life you are supposed to be leading?

Whenever this country has been confronted with a challenge or a crisis, we responded with urgent and creative energy. We put our R&D innovation together with our manufacturing might and powered it all with a kind of national will. And we emerged victorious. That’s how we won World War II, how we put a man on the Moon and how we overcame the national embarrassment of the K-car.

“We need creative thought for other possibilities to fight the virus,” said Holly Schroeder, president and chief executive of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corp. “It should not be just a binary choice.”

Indeed. Sitting around allowing our livelihoods to be crushed and our savings to be vaporized while we wait and wait and wait for a vaccine is not the creative and innovative response we should accept.

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