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Rushing for a solution: the COVID-19 medicine show

theme parks coronavirus Universal Resort reopening masks

The reality of the pandemic is not going away. With no COVID-19 vaccine, the leisure industry is bleeding cash and there is pressure from the board room to adopt an immediate testing solution in order to reopen.

By Eddie Sotto

Eddie SottoThe cry of “Eureka!” from COVID-19 vaccine and testing laboratories each week sounds strangely familiar to the California Gold Rush more than a century ago.

With Wall Street and venture capital as the fuel, there is the opportunity for a brush fire of companies, both well-intentioned and not, to tout COVID tests with amazing claims of accuracy, as well as miracle vaccines and cleaning products.

In one case, one tech company is already suing another for stealing their work – which is not even proven yet. Claim-jumping already? I hope it’s worth suing for.

Our concern here is protecting clients from grasping at the “market-ready” cure-alls and Snake Oil from the COVID-19 “hurry, hurry, hurry” medicine show.

We have spent most of our time myth-busting these processes, in an effort to find the most reliable and fastest technology. Not to say there aren’t legit miracles being performed. But the desperation is high enough to blur judgement.

COVID-19 tests – the pressure is on

Snake Oil poster COVID testsIn the rush to reopen, some may feel pressured to forego the clinical trials that should take place in the field by beta testing, and go with the laboratory claims made under more ideal conditions.

As a designer of theme parks for over 40 years, I’ve learned that anything you can imagine a guest doing in a park has happened or will. After all, the reason rides soft open is to anticipate the unexpected. Add that to testing and COVID-19, and the need to be diligent and cautious is even greater.

What approach are we taking? Our tactic thus far has been to set the bar extremely high and mimic the format of airport security where we create a safe bubble of screened guests. The current hospital approach destroys shared experiences by cancelling parades, live shows and fireworks, limiting capacity, masks, and endless sterilization.

By only allowing in well, non-contagious people, operators can return to a shared experience

Doing nothing is a fiscal death spiral. So, we are out to restore what the guest loves, by unmasking your business. By only allowing in well, non-contagious people, operators can return to a shared experience. One that is worth paying full price for.

Futureproofing against new outbreaks

loc-oxygenated-bitters-covid testsHaving said that, this airport-inspired COVID test screening process would have to yield a near-instant result to maintain throughput. It needs to be appealing, hassle-free and over 98% accurate as well as having a low cost per guest. Any such solution must reassure each guest that they are truly safe.

It’s a very tall order indeed. But the good news is that we have found technologies that we feel will meet those criteria. Plus, they will improve in time, helping operators to futureproof you against further outbreaks.

Unlike a typical antibody or swab test, one process uses terahertz technology and machine learning. This test can literally “see” COVID in your breath. It then builds a library of other detectible viruses so the process only gets smarter, increasing protection. The test takes about one minute and is the highest accuracy one out there so far.

There are others we are looking at, like molecular testing, but seeing is believing. What we’ve seen work in the lab is being torture tested in the field under operating conditions. This is the key, as lab-tested viruses themselves are not disguised by everything else we typically have in our breath.

There are also other options that hold great promise. Stay tuned.

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Eddie Sotto

Eddie Sotto

Eddie Sotto, former SVP of Concept Design at Disney Imagineering now runs SottoStudios, a turn-key entertainment design and experiential R&D firm. He also recently formed the group to address the need for COVID-19 variant screening.

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