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Ariel Beery
Dedicated to solving problems facing humanity with sustainable and scalable solutions
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Six things to do before the next wave

National defense planning must extend to fighting a virus that has killed more Israelis than were slain by Hamas in the past 20 years of warfare
Photo by DON JACKSON-WYATT on Unsplash
Photo by DON JACKSON-WYATT on Unsplash

A curious thing happened the other day. During the week when more than 30 people died a day from a virus classified as “mild,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett went on stage at the INSS conference and publicly committed to investing in accelerating innovation to stop missiles with lasers. Now, I’m all for a Jewish Space Laser. Seriously. But it does beg the question: is this the best way we can spend our public funds to save lives?

True, Israel remains on the hit list of many of the world’s most terrible regimes and terrorist groups. Yes, there are tens of thousands of rockets pointed at our citizens. Indeed, not a day goes by that our defense forces don’t uncover and stop a terrorist plot. There is no question Israel still needs a robust defense establishment to protect us.

Also, COVID-19 has killed more citizens than have ever been killed by Hamas or the last 20 years of warfare. Several times more. In the past two weeks alone, more Israelis died from COVID-19 than were killed by Hamas rockets in the past two decades, or killed by Hezbollah rockets before Iron Dome.

If our goal is to protect the sanctity of life, as measured by the number of lives saved, we should spend less on laser guns and more on biophotonic approaches to rapid molecular testing. More nurses, less tank commanders. Better hospital infrastructure. Or at the very least, we should spend as much on defending our citizens from public health threats from inhuman viruses as from angry humans who want us dead.

Since we already know that people who have recovered from COVID-19 can be reinfected, making herd immunity highly improbable, here is a list of six things our government and public agencies should invest in today to ensure that future waves do not kill more Israelis than all of our wars combined:

1. Better masks

Today’s masks are uncomfortable, constrictive, and vary wildly in effectiveness. The best way to stop an airborne virus is to make masking easy, comfortable, and available for wide use when a wave arises. Also, free.

Startup Nation’s expertise in material science, fashion and industrial design could lend itself well to developing better, more reliable masks. These masks need not look like the masks we all shove into our pockets today. Sonovia is a wonderful Israeli company and I own a few of their masks, but it doesn’t meet N95 standards, and we should strive to the highest standard.

We need a public investment initiative to challenge our Shenkar and Betzalel graduates to make N95-grade masks that could be clear, and cool, and connected. Most importantly, they should be freely distributed, just as gas masks were distributed when there was fear of biological or chemical attack. Because…we’re literally living through a biological attack.

2. Better tests

Lateral Flow Assays – the rapid antigen tests we have all been using – are inexpensive and easy to deploy. I know, because my company sells them, and I believe they’re the best public health tool we currently have.

They are also ineffective when used improperly, and are especially inaccurate for kids. They’re not connected either, so public health defenders can really only guess at the positivity rate and clustering, which limits their response.

Better tests are critical if we want to respond quickly to future waves. We cannot manage what we cannot measure. The ideal testing solution would be home-based, easy-to-use, provide results between waking up and drinking your cup of coffee, and be securely connected to a national database to enable live reporting and case management.

Startup Nation could easily solve this. We have more than enough local expertise in building IoT solutions for everything and anything, more than enough cyber expertise for securing the privacy of the test takers. More than enough expertise in biological sciences, virology, and chemistry to develop and manufacture breakthrough tests that could be given to every household to be used regularly when waves arise.

Just as we do not trust the private markets with something as critical as Iron Dome, we need to build a diagnostics-industrial complex here in Israel to develop next generation diagnostic public health tools. An Iron Dome for biological warfare. Added benefit: there will be wide markets for this abroad, so a government investment would pay dividends back to our citizens in more ways than one.

3. Better ventilation 

Airborne viruses infect people because they remain in the air. Packing people into closed rooms to breathe tainted air makes as much sense as using lead pipes to deliver water. Or spraying DDT in cities. We’ve learned time and time again that the quality of our public infrastructure can affect health. It should not be hard for us to recognize that an airborne disease that has already killed more Israelis than the Yom Kippur War can only be fought with air defense.

Startup Nation has already developed an array of solutions to this problem. Aura Air has been piloted by the government, ViralWall has passed multiple validations. As Zeynep Tufekci told Ezra Klein, even a simple box fan with a strap-on filter would do most of the job.

Hundreds of thousands of kids and thousands of teachers exposed to COVID-19 in classrooms would have been much, much safer had the government installed even the minimal air filtration in schools as soon as we knew the virus was airborne. We need to make sure every publicly owned room has HEPA or better air filtration before the next airborne virus hits.

4. Better social gathering arrangements, especially for education

Beyond technologies, there are social and behavioral adjustments that could do wonders for reducing infection. While my professional expertise is in medical technologies, my youth movement upbringing reminds me there are many ways to educate kids beyond the four walls of the classroom.

Luckily, Israel was literally built by youth movements, and there is significant expertise in pedagogy across our educational system. Education does not need to happen in stuffy rooms. There is no reason we shouldn’t adapt to the new circumstances by taking advantage of new pedagogy. Even with a rainy season, Israel is also fortunate to be blessed with an inordinate amount of sunshine, a large coastline, and generally excellent conditions for learning outdoors. When the waves hit, some could hit the waves. Others could learn in parks or in the hills. The key is to get outside, however it happens.

Further, social interaction does not only need to occur in person. Thanks to climate collapse, extreme weather in Israel will become more common. We can and should develop better ways to keep kids stimulated indoors. Luckily, Startup Nation also has a ton of expertise in online gaming and social interaction.

There is a tremendous difference in psychosocial development when a child is asked to stare into a frontal lecture given over Zoom, versus when a child interacts across a digital world with other children, teachers, and education programs that provide social, emotional, and educational stimulation.  We even have an underfunded national treasure developing world-leading techniques for digital education and enrichment, Matah: the Center for Educational Technologies.

Israel’s currently chosen means of investing in technologies, VC, has proven to be a poor investor in educational technology. A little public funding could expand our homegrown digital educational infrastructure to be as immersive and engaging as Roblox. It would go a long way. Added benefit: as a collapsing climate keeps more kids home for more days of the year, here too there is an opportunity to earn dividends back to our citizens if we make the platform available to other countries.

5. Better public communications

Ask three people on the street what the current quarantine requirements are, and you’ll get 15 answers. Ask them why the government decided to repeal restrictions on gathering during the most infectious wave of COVID-19 and you’ll get a lot of commentary and speculation that are light on facts and data. We need to change that, and fast.

Israelis, like many others around the world, are losing faith in their government. Add to that Israel’s star position on the global corruption index and you get a special cocktail that is accelerating infection, reducing vaccination rates, and literally killing people.

Our public representatives need to make it an Iron Law that no policy gets put into action without a clearly communicated, scientifically vetted, heavily cited position paper, as well as simple-to-understand educational videos (think: TikTok). In a crisis, the most important thing is clear communication. Parody videos from people making fun of conflicting messages issued by public agencies should be treated like the serious threat they are, and dealt with professionally and fundamentally.

6. Better manufacturing 

One thing Bennett correctly highlighted in his “Star Wars” press conference is that we need to ensure the continued prosperity of Israel if we’d like to pay for any of this. Let’s remember, Israel grew an annualized 2.3% over the past two years of pandemic (contraction of 2.4% in 2020, growth of 7% in 2021). In other words, we learned that massive government spending to ensure the survival of Israeli small businesses pays off in economic growth and prosperity for all.

One sector that could still stand to be strengthened, however, is our manufacturing sector. Both because there is no reason we cannot manufacture tests, masks, and air filtration devices in Israel, and because rising costs of energy and supply caused by extreme climate events will make it a bad idea to rely on other countries to manufacture critical goods. Not to mention, it means billions of shekels sent outside the country, instead of spent employing populations in need of work.

Before the next wave hits, let’s at least move rapid test manufacturing to Israel. Companies such as NovaMed already have the technology. We need to make it a national priority to expand local manufacturing in the short run, and research and development of defensive technologies over time, to ensure that Israel is as safe as it can be from the supply side shocks that have harmed the rest of the world.

And once we do those six…

COVID-19 has become endemic, just as HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and HPV are endemic. It is a mass murdering biological agent we will not be able to wipe off the face of the planet. Now that the receding wave will give us a few months of calm we need to invest in our ability to live with this virus.

Just as we learned that living in this dangerous region requires ongoing investment in our military defense, it is time we accept that living in this biologically dangerous period requires ongoing investment in our public health defense.

About the Author
Dedicated to solving problems facing humanity with sustainable and scalable solutions, Ariel Beery co-founded and led 3 Israel-based social ventures over the past two decades: CoVelocity, MobileODT, and the PresenTense Group. His geopolitical writings - with deeper dives into the topics addressed in singular columns - can be found on his substack, A Lighthouse.
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