Calling on Virtual Reality in the Wake of COVID-19

Published on March 24, 2020

As this pandemic continues to loom over us, we see the world around us—as well as our own—alter radically. It’s time to employ a different technique: the use of virtual reality —the kind of tech that’s been utilized for medical advancements, educational advancements and assisting businesses in their growth. Let’s review some of the ways virtual reality (VR) has made itself a necessary means in the wake of COVID-19.

George Washington University Turns to VR to View COVID-19 Patients Lungs As Respiratory Issues Continue to Worsen.

After continuing to deteriorate, a man in his 50’s who had tested positive for the virus was transferred from an area hospital to George Washington University Hospital; deeming him the first COVID-19 patient GW would encounter.

The condition of the patients’ lungs were progressively worsening. In the hospital’s podcast, chief of thoracic surgery at GW hospital, Dr. Keith Mortman, said that the patient’s lungs “needed higher levels of support from that ventilator and it got to the point where he needed maximal support from [it].” And that’s when the initial hospital reached out to GW for help.

The patient had been admitted to GW to receive ECMO, a process where oxygen is pumped back into the blood. GW decided to employ VR to inspect the state of the patient’s lungs and assess how much damage this disease is causing; the results were uncanny.

The VR tech allowed for the medical staff to recreate 360 degree images of the patients’ lungs, providing a clear image of what they were working with. “It’s such a contrast that you do not need an MD after your name to understand these images,” Dr. Mortman says, “This is severe damage to both lungs diffusely.” GW was the first hospital in the nation to utilize VR for thoracic cases and continues to turn to VR in the battle against COVID-19. 

In Response to a Global Quarantine, Museums and National Parks Launch Virtual Tours.

Museums, tourist attractions and national parks have joined forces with this interactive tech to keep cultural content alive, and the escape to nature an option as we close our doors to the outside world. A week ago today, the National Park Service announced that it would be “modifying operations” in its 419 parks in response to the social distancing and safety guidelines pressed by the White House and the CDC during the COVID-19 pandemic. NPS has made it possible for people to virtually visit sites like Yellowstone National Park, the Denali National Park and Preserve, the Upper Delaware Scenic and Rec River, and even the Statue of Liberty

For those lacking a cultural and art fix, museums and art galleries have taken a similar approach. New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has made a few of its exhibits available online and promises to surface their “greatest hits and hidden treasures” via social media; LA’s Getty Museum plans to promote content via their social media and their blog “The Iris”; Paris’ Louvre Museum is offering tours of Egyptian antiquities, the remains of the Louvre’s Moat, and the Galerie d’Apollon; Rome’s Vatican Museum is has also contributed a 360-degree virtual tour showcasing its multitude of art collections. These are only a few of the many museums and galleries that are making their content available to the public right now via VR. 

Businesses Employ VR to Improve Employee Training as Many are Forced to Work Remotely.

Another factor that this global pandemic has struck: our businesses—our employment, and the way we function as workers. Those fortunate enough to work remotely, have all been ordered to do so. 

Big tech companies have transitioned entirely to remote work until further instruction is given; disrupting the kind of collaborative work and the valuable hands-on-approach in training that employees benefit from in an office environment. In response, companies have implemented VR to mimic the hands-on training employees would’ve received in a workplace environment; allowing employees to continue sharpening their skill-set while under lockdown. 20% of workers claim their biggest struggle with working from home is “Difficulties with collaboration and communication.” Where collaboration gets stifled, virtual reality can bridge the gap. Remote meetings can be hosted through VR, allowing colleagues to communicate complex concepts coherently and efficiently; almost as if they were in the same room.

Kristen Sallaberry is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in New York, she covers the realm of consumer tech and how these ever-progressing gadgets affect our lives. A creative writer and music-head, she also writes for online music publication, Sound of Boston, where she reviews and premieres new music, and co-writes a hip-hop focused column.

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