Just as things started to look up and restrictions were slowed, the past few weeks have seen a dramatic spike in coronavirus cases all across the country, with states like California and Florida reporting record-setting numbers of new cases. It was not a surprise that the minute restrictions were slightly lifted, an increase in cases followed: after nearly five months of quarantine, social distancing, and mask-wearing, the general public has become fatigued.
Although many state and local governments are urgently trying to get things back under control, it’s safe to say we’ll all have to endure some level of restrictions a bit longer. Despite this "new normal", advancements in innovation and technology have continued to develop rapidly.
When the outbreak first started, technology came to the rescue as Facebook-generated maps helped set up testing zones in highly-populated places while other tech giants worked to eliminate misinformation about the virus. Crowded hospitals prompted growth in the telehealth industry and offered virtual primary care to people all over the world. AI health apps and chatbots were also used to screen for symptoms and diagnose from afar. Wherever we could prevent unnecessary appointments, we did. More recently, new technology has also been helpful for tracking and predicting the spread of the virus, which has in turn helped many cities and states enact measures before it was too late.
For many, one of the biggest hurdles was the transition to remote work. As people were ushered into their homes all over the country, companies had to work around the clock to provide employees with equipment and collaboration services, and shore up any security and bandwidth shortcomings. Not to mention, the uptake in online meetings required learning new platforms, which in turn demanded more training for employees in every vertical market. Companies like Google even made their meeting platform completely free, providing easier options for groups who might lack the budget or tech expertise to put a more complex package into use. Months later these same tools are also being used to call friends and family to maintain relations and make quarantining a bit easier.
Similarly, all students from Kindergarten to Higher Education switched from open campuses to Zoom lecture halls. Students are now learning and attending classes completely online. As a result, we saw updates to user-interface allowing for even younger students to understand the programs better. Hand-raising, breakout rooms, and more chances to collaborate allow students to work together as if they never left.
Online and offline shopping have both been tailored for the safety of customers. Virtual queuing services like FireCast SmartFlow allow all types of brick-and-mortar businesses to practice social distancing measures and improve customer service. By enabling customers to reserve their spots online, the queuing system is used to control customer traffic flows and streamline real-world visits to restaurants, shops, and other places where they might have had to stand around in a crowd. Likewise, changes in eCommerce and online shopping have forced improvements in packaging, shipments, and financial transactions.
Quarantine has left many with more free time to spend online. With in-person events canceled for the next year, fitness classes, virtual concerts, and worldwide conferences have taken the stage. Dozens of streaming services now compete for people’s attention, prompting more TV shows to be added and more online activities to take place. Entertainment in times of quarantine has even grown to cover museums and gaming.
COVID-19 has tested businesses small and large on their digital readiness to see how well they can support the needs of their customers and employees. Moving forward, businesses will need to stay current on adopting technology trends to outperform the competition. And with all the tech resources that consumers now have access to, there is indeed hope that people can continue observing healthy practices until virus activity finally abates, via the development of a vaccine or otherwise.