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Special: Coronavirus update

March 06, 2020

Today's update is a little bit different, I'm sharing my thoughts on Corona virus. It's a long read, so I recommend you watch the video.

A few days ago my partner got back from an international trip. They're a little bit sick so we called Kaiser. The doc said we're probably fine but just be totally safe the two should stay home and "self quarantine" for the next two weeks. Here I am, staying inside, wearing a mask.

I'm happy about it because I think about the health of the more vulnerable people around me, people with compromised immune systems or people that are over 60 years old. If I'm sick I can't help those people around me that I care about. That's reason enough for me to stay home, help my partner, and stay well.

I even heard today that there's been two cases of communities spread in San Francisco. If you're not familiar with that term, it means there's two people that are really sick with COVID-19 and doctors don't know where they got it from. There's plenty of cases where they were in China, they were in Italy, they were near somebody who had it. But for these two "community" cases in SF, nobody knows where they got it.

If we were better at testing with DNA molecular diagnostics the story would be quite different. The reason I say that is in a previous life I started a DNA molecular diagnostics startup called OpenPCR. We worked to democratize these DNA tests like the ones used to test for COVID19. The way PCR works is you take a sample (in the case of a virus it's usually a blood sample) and look at the DNA of it to figure out what's in there. It's a very accurate and powerful test. With OpenPCR we turned a $5,000 machine into a tool you could can buy for a few hundred dollars to run dozens of tests in a single day.

PCR monitoring and testing is essential for tracking COVID-19 and saving lives. That's why it's been so challenging for me to watch the USA struggle with PCR testing. The CDC has been overly restrictive with access to these tests. Up to last week they only allowed a few hundred tests to be completed. And it sounds like some of the tests sent to hospitals were completely broken. That is totally unacceptable.

Now that I hear about these communities spread cases in San Francisco, I know this mess will be really hard to contain. I have firsthand experience from this week too. We attempted to get the test for my partner but Kaiser said the tests still aren't available and so they can't test my partner. From what I'm reading and from my firsthand experience, monitoring and testing for COVID19 is broken.

All of this excitement makes me think of climate. Denial, panic, people freaking out and people doing nothing. What I've found really consistent in my career is when I hear panic and denial, I look for opportunities for action. When I was first getting into into DNA devices I saw these tools were inaccessible. I said, "let's go out and figure out how to take this technology and make it for one 10th of the cost and make it accessible to 10 times as many people". And we succeeded.

I see the same thing in climate. How can we take action on the climate? That's our mission with the Negative bracelet. People are frustrated, people are in denial, people are panicked and freaked out, understandably about the changing climate. In the face of fear we can take action. We can create new things, we can create new solutions, we can find new jobs or encourage other people. Let's go negative!

The COVID-19 virus shows us that the foundations underpinning our molecular diagnostics are busted. We have the opportunity to build better ones. Same thing with the changing climate. We have the opportunity to greatly improve our tools to monitor, control, engineer, and change the climate.

How are you seeing connections between COVID19 and climate action?

Stay well out there, both to help protect yourself and the vulnerable people around you.


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