Four TED Talks That Will Get You Thinking About COVID-19

As we grapple with the impact of COVID-19, we can draw on these insights.

Posted Mar 18, 2020

Photo by Fachy Marín on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Fachy Marín on Unsplash

As we grapple with the impact of COVID-19 on our families, communities, and world, we can draw on the insights of those with particular areas of insight and expertise.

At this moment, as we see daily reports of increasing cases across the United States, we can learn from thinkers and problem-solvers who’ve already been noodling on how to best navigate this terrain.

Here are four of the best TED and TED-Ed talks for learning about pandemics, in general, and COVID-19, in particular. While a single talk can’t offer a comprehensive solution, each of these four talks offers fresh insights to help us understand how we are thinking, feeling and reacting to the challenges of today.

1. We Ignored the Inevitability of This Outbreak

In the wake of the 2014 global Ebola outbreak, Bill Gates gave a 2015 TED talk about what we could put in place to better weather the next epidemic. He explained, “If anything kills over 10 million people, in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes.”

Highlighting the fact we weren’t ready for Ebola, Gates offered practical steps that would have better prepared us for what we’re facing today. In a fictional scenario that now feels eerie, Gates offered this: “You could have a virus where people feel well enough while they’re infectious that they get on a plane, or they go to a market.”

Lesson for Today: We weren’t prepared for this, but we can be in the future. If we’re willing to be forward-thinking, we have the resources to build a strong response team for the next outbreak.

2. We Are Tempted to Ignore Risks We Can’t See

In a recent TED talk about the coronavirus pandemic, infectious disease expert Adam Kucharski briefly answers some of the most pressing questions about COVID-19. He reminds listeners:

“It’s not just whose hand you shake, it’s whose hand that person goes on to shake. I think we need to think about these second-degree steps that you might think you have low risk and you’re in a younger group, but you’re often going to be a very short step away from someone who’s going to get hit very hard by this. I think we really need to be socially minded.”

Kucharski’s insight rings particularly true for many high school and college students, suddenly liberated from campuses, who continue to circulate and socialize in public.

Lesson for Today: We must be socially minded, thinking beyond our own risks, to the risk we present to others.

3. Human Nature Resists Isolation

In her TED talk about the potential future in a world with COVID-19, global health expert Alana Shaikh reminds us of what we’d learned during the global Ebola outbreak. Specifically, she reminds us that, because we are by nature social creatures, we resist isolation.

“We saw in the Ebola outbreak,” Shaikh explains, “that as soon as you put a quarantine in place, people start trying to evade it.”

She adds, “Individual patients, if they know there’s a strict quarantine protocol, may not go for healthcare.”

Lesson for Today: Although we must discover workable containment measures, the strictest forms of quarantine may backfire.

4. We Are Prone to Succumb to the Spread of Inaccurate Information

A 2012 TED-Ed talk about pandemics explains how viruses and diseases spread. In February 2003, a doctor from Hong Kong was unknowingly harboring SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Hotel guests with whom he interacted traveled to several other countries. Four months later, when the epidemic finally ended, the virus had reached 29 countries. Thanks to quick emergency measures, a pandemic was averted.

But the narrator explains: “Though the virus was rapidly contained, however, there was little that could be done about the alarming news reports carried by cable news channels and the internet.”

Bloggers and others contributed to mass hysteria by spreading unfounded conspiracy theories.

Lesson for Today: We must actively choose to seek out the most accurate information and avoid unreliable sources.

If we can allow these respected thinkers to inform our reactions today, we will be better equipped to defeat this enemy together tomorrow.

Jamie Aten, Ph.D., is founder of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College. Kent Annan, M.Div., is director of Humanitarian & Disaster Leadership at Wheaton College.