In order to combat the COVID-19 virus, many states have elected to use the time-honored method of contacting individuals who have tested positive for the virus and then “tracing” their relationships via an interview process to try and determine who else may have the virus and then trace the spread of the virus.
While this is a worthy effort, how does it get us back to work?
Society has changed. Where once we did many things very casually, unaware of the “invisible enemy” around us, we will not approach those things again in the same way. Just as the discovery of how we could harness the atom changed the nature of the relationships between countries, the knowledge that we can infect each other with our breath and with our touch will change our personal and professional relationships at a deep level.
We have entered a new era of knowledge around how we are all connected: knowledge of how our own behaviors can deeply impact others and how others' behaviors, even across the globe, can impact ours. How will we be able to move forward? Will contact tracing do anything more than reveal the depth of the infection?
How will that lead to a societal solution that will allow us to trust common space, and each other, to allow us to get back to working, playing, and socializing?
In order for us to foster the social contract with others, which allows us to get back to doing business together and spending time in spaces with others, we have to reestablish trust with each other. We have to know that the people we are interacting with have similar goals and also care about keeping others safe. Our businesses need to provide safe environments for us to get back to our jobs. Entertainment venues and lodging need to be able to assure us that they are making sure the spaces we occupy are safe.
Wearing masks and social distancing are useful tools to combat the virus, but they are not social mores that can help us recreate the trust between us. We need a way to allow each other to tell our friends, our coworkers, and new people we meet that it’s okay to be close to us. That it’s safe to have a relationship with us. That we can be in spaces together in a safe, comfortable way.
Having a visible sign of our current health status is one sure way we can do this. Historically, we have done many things to establish the negative aspects of our health. Quarantine flags, special clothing, special areas, bracelets, and yes, masks. With advances in society and technology, we can now establish POSITIVE indicators of our health. Having a Health ID card that we control to allow others to view our health status in a secure, authenticated way can help take us to the next stage of societal and personal interaction in a viral world.
Viruses have always been with us. They have always impacted our lives and societies. Before today we have always been at their mercy. Now we can see them. They are no longer invisible. We can fight them. But as with all wars, there are always consequences. Today we have broken the world economy and many bonds of society to defeat this enemy. We need to recognize and deal with this new knowledge. The vast scope of our global society now has led us to share more than our labor and our knowledge: we now share our health ecosystem.
We all live in different places with differing forms of government and different views of how we should live. Countries and people have different risk profiles of the threat of the virus as well as differing responses in how to combat it. We need to be able to travel and interact with and among our different societies while also protecting ourselves and understanding the different environments that we occupy. The creation of a framework to facilitate the reestablishment of our ability to share spaces and form relationships is of paramount importance if we want to restore trust in our global ecosystems.
Using a framework that identifies the three key things we need to know about a person or space we can occupy is the shortest path to build this trust. We need to know:
- The current status of an individual’s health (as in whether they can currently spread the virus).
- Whether the space we are entering has been cleansed of the virus and when.
- Who is the responsible authority for certifying the status of the above.
Trust in individuals and organizations is established through interaction. There needs to be consent for an individual or space owner to grant access to another person. For this to work, we have to be in control of to whom we give our trust.
We need our trusted institutions where we live to be able to specify rules for what defines “safe.” We trust our governments and our health officials to tell us what tests, what timelines, and what processes we should follow to stay safe and healthy. We need a way to interact with them and others that combines their direction with our desire for interaction.
Our technology today is amazing. Almost everyone in the world has access to devices to communicate. In most developed countries, people use these devices countless hours each and every day. We can establish an application that runs on these devices that allows certifying authorities to give specific guidance on the necessary tests and timelines that we need to follow to stay healthy. Businesses can specify what rules we need to follow to go back to work. Entertainment venues can tell us what our health status must be in order to participate in their events or be in their spaces.
We need to be able to share our current health status with others to build trust that it is safe to be with us, to work with us, to talk to us, to share space with us, to love us. We need to be able to be with our older members of society and know that we are not going to impact their health. We need to be able to consent to having people know our health status just as we consent to people knowing our nationality, financial or other status.
This virus is here to stay.
There will be more viruses coming, some worse than this one.
We have the opportunity now to recognize this fact and prepare for the future. By establishing a standard framework for a Health ID that focuses not on detailed medical data and complex records that are required for our medical treatment, but one that simply and quickly reports our current health status to others, we can lay the foundation for the trust for restarting our society and get us all back to working and living the best lives we can.
Our latest discussions with the Atlantic Council: Strategic standards now, so people can get back to work soon.