How Silicon Valley Saves Generation Covid

Dr. C. Wolf Nordlinger
7 min readMay 13, 2020

“If all we’re doing is treating COVID like a Sand Hill pitch, then we will fail” — a noted Silicon Valley pitch artist.

Now that President Biden has declared an end to the COVID emergency I have chosen to review this policy prescription crafted in the early days of the pandemic to see just how badly I did. It appears that I did just okay in my evaluation and have noted the errors in the highlighted sections below: Never could have seen Tony Fauci become the whipping boy of the Right, worthy of prosecution.

evaluate the substance of my prescriptions for repairing the his piece is being edited here to take a historical perspective on two years

While the country is opening up again, there is no doubt that if we don’t commit to massive contact tracing and COVID-19 antibody testing, the coronavirus will raise its head again now or in the next flu season with more deaths. We have tested, on a per capita basis, fewer citizens than 11 other countries, including Great Britain. And contact tracing is minimal in all the states that want to open immediately. Yet, according to all the experts in this thing called science and pandemics, it is necessary to stamp out more deaths now and when this pandemic revives itself in November.

What if Silicon Valley used its unique skills and resources to quickly organize a youth-based national program to help heal this and the future pandemics certain to come our way?

As a result, it could also save our youth — from newborns to graduating college seniors and young Millennials, — what has been dubbed Generation COVID. Generation C (Atlantic, March 25, 2020). Growing up around the events of 9–11–2001, deformed by the 2008 Great Recession and eviscerated by the COVID-19 economic meltdown of 2020, this young cohort can find the promise of a flourishing career restored.

The plain truth is that we have minimized vital contact tracing, and Governors Gavin Newsom (D-CA) and Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) are already trying to organize local forces to pitch in voluntarily. San Francisco is reassigning librarians and assessors to the task. That’s not a viable strategy but better than what most governors are doing…which is next to nothing just as the virus heads into the rural areas that have been largely spared so far.

What is involved in contact tracing? It focuses on tracking down people who might have had direct exposure to someone who tested positive and counseling them with information and support to prevent them from spreading the disease. As oncologist and Obamacare czar, Ezekial Emanuel and economist Paul Romer noted in the Atlantic recently, “…contact tracing is labor-intensive and requires some training, but it does not require highly specialized skills.”

You got this one, Gen C.

Here’s how seriously this issue needs to be taken. Estimates of the number of contact tracers needed in the U.S. vary but are all exponentially higher than the feeble efforts being undertaken now. CDC Director Robert Redfield said that to reopen the country fully, contact tracing needed to be “a very aggressive” effort. Ezekial and Romer estimate the tracer force needed as somewhere between 100,00 and 200,00. Former public health officials Andy Slavitt, Scott Gottlieb and Vivek Murphy estimated that it would take 180,000 until a vaccine became widely available. And former CDC director Tom Freiden has estimated the number of contact tracers required at 300,000.

So why are we not taking this as seriously as we should? Are Americans just tired of being locked up? Tired of virtual happy hours? Tired of talking about little else but death and face masks? Do we have a new virus called Shutdown Fatigue?

Why don’t we let the experts in science call this one? After all, they’re the ones that know this will most likely rebound with thousands of more deaths in the fall.

Maligned for thinking it is figuratively the center of the universe, Silicon Valley can play a positive role in a crisis that has already killed over 80,000 Americans in 15 weeks.

Already Google, Apple, Cisco, Facebook, and other masters of the valley have made significant contributions to the pandemic recovery effort. Google and Apple are even cooperating with each other to do limited contact tracing based on their respective smartphones. Gilead Sciences of Foster City is now receiving great accolades for its new drug, Remdesavir, which has shown great promise in treating patients suffering in the early stages of COVID-19.

A national partnership led by tech giants and pharmaceutical pioneers could organize a battalion of volunteers that would be partnered with Washington and the states to fill in where the pandemic needs it now and in November.

This Silicon Valley-Washington partnership could coordinate hiring 200,000 high school grads, graduating seniors and Millenials (up to age 35) to be contact tracers in a national volunteer organization much like Americorps. For the sake of this example, let’s call it LifeCorps.

LifeCorps volunteers would be trained to complete contact tracing from the infected back to all the people who they had close contact with over the preceding two weeks.

Before you think this too far-fetched or costly, remember the New Deal programs that FDR created in the Great Depression. In one fell swoop, the Civilian Conservation Corps hired 225,000 unemployed Americans to build roads and critical infrastructure, create national parks and build some of our greatest national monuments. It put money in the pocket of those who could earn it. They then spent it to stimulate the local economy, and, more importantly, they kept up their own and the nation’s morale until jobs picked up again with WWII..

In compensation for their one year of service, LifeCorps volunteers will receive a stipend and college debt relief. The Federal Government would ensure that a minimum one-year commitment would wipe out four years of college debt. That would cost approximately $20 billion, but would be a win-win for Gen C, our future guardians of the republic, and all of us who need the contract tracing to be done in a thorough and systematic manner or continue to risk death, or worse? Worse? Another quarantine, God forbid?

A special program feature could help a select group of volunteers build an even more promising future after their service. Life Corps would offer 10 percent of ex-volunteers full-time jobs with organizations in public health, private healthcare, and biotech as well as with the Silicon Valley founders of the program and any other company that wants to participate in the job bank.

In honor of America’s 79-year-old infectious diseases icon Anthony Fauci and his 40 years of public health leadership, these selected ex-volunteers would be “Fauci Fellows”.

Tech giants Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon (the GAFA companies), the biotech companies and other major corporations would make an additional substantial commitment to hire and train all ex-volunteers for full-time jobs each year.

And again, in terms of the cost of this (calculated as 200,000 volunteers times $100,000=$20 Billion) , a group of Congressional representatives are urging a national effort just today to propose funding a battalion of tracers. My bias as a Silicon Valley denizen is that we can plan and implement this more rapidly as well as more smoothly than the federal government. Let them fund our best possible solution…or work together. But let’s think fast and get going faster. Perhaps this is the ultimate private-public partnership that can work.

More engaged than ever, all ex-volunteers could chase after an American Dream which will hopefully once again appear attainable. They would have saved us and, in return, we will save them. Sounds a lot like how we treated returning GIs from our hard-won victory in WWII, doesn’t it? The GI bill and affordable housing. Wasn’t that a happier time in America? Isn’t this a bit like Making America Great Again?

This dividend to Gen C will redound to their children and their children’s children by having not been truly disadvantaged and despondent heirs of a generation lost…and abandoned.



Dr. C. Wolf Nordlinger

PhD, Fulbright Scholar. Writer (Wash. Post,Fortune) Natural Foods. AI-Cybersecuruty Nexus. U.S. State Dep't. Cisco,Splunk,Palo Alto Networks.