A Year Into COVID-19, These Medical and Business Innovations Have Changed the World

Amid unthinkable tragedy, it was also a year marked by unprecedented innovations, in medicine, commerce, technology and the way we live and work.

Top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci receive a coronavirus vaccine from Moderna in Washington, DC, United States on December 22, 2020. Chia-Chi Charlie Chang/Pool/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

It has been exactly a year since COVID-19 forever changed our lives. On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, after the coronavirus had been spreading in China and several Asian and European countries for months.

It’s hard to look back on the year without feeling like reliving a nightmare. In just 12 months, the virus has killed over 2.6 million people and infected over 100 million worldwide. In the U.S., over half a million people died of infections, and countless more lost jobs or sources of income; there are still over 18 million people receiving unemployment benefits, and that hardly counts everyone that is hard-up for work. Yet, it was also a year marked by unprecedented innovations, in medicine, commerce, technology and the way we live and work.

COVID-19 Vaccines: Three Approved in the U.S., Hundreds More Under Development

Finding an effective vaccine, historically a slow and expensive process, has been the top priority for scientists and political leaders around the world since day one of the pandemic. Thanks to novel biotech platforms such as messenger RNA, international collaboration and generous government funding, multiple drugmakers were able to pump out highly effective vaccines in record time.

So far, the FDA has authorized the emergency use of three COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S., made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. The same vaccines, plus one made by AstraZeneca, are approved for use in European Union countries. Russia, China and India have all had success from local vaccine makers. More than 200 others remain in development around the world.

COVID-19 Treatment: One FDA-Approved Drug; Many More to Come

To date, Gilead Sciences’ Remdesivir is the only COVID-19 treatment approved by the FDA. Many more are expected to clear regulatory hurdles soon. Eli Lilly’s antibody drug combo, for example, has shown promising trial results in reducing severe cases and deaths.

Face Masks Are the New Life Essential

A surgical face mask costs only a few cents to make. Yet, early in the pandemic, it became the most coveted commodity in the U.S. (and many other countries) as demand skyrocketed. Before the pandemic, Americans were consuming about 50 million N95 masks a year; last spring, demand surged to about 140 million during a 90-day peak-use period, according to a DOD report. 

Public health experts have recommended that we keep the mask on even after receiving vaccines to ensure the safety of others. Given that prospect, domestic production of N95 masks is expected to surpass one billion in 2021. Global face mask sales are expected to top $20 billion by 2026, according to a MarketStudy report.

Air Ventilation Systems Get Upgrade Worldwide

Although the U.S. CDC didn’t officially acknowledge that COVID-19 is airborne until last October, health officials have called attention to the role of air ventilation in viral transmission since the beginning of the pandemic.

After the first round of lockdown, most businesses and public facilities in the U.S. were asked to upgrade their air filtration and ventilation systems before they could reopen. Most countries affected by COVID-19 have adopted new standards and measures in regulating air quality in indoor spaces.

Work From Home (Forever) in Zoom Economy 

The sudden onset of the pandemic has forced many employers to embrace remote working. As of December 2020, 71 percent of American workers were working from home, compared with only 20 percent before the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The majority of them say they would like to work remotely even after the pandemic is over.

The work-from-home boom has given rise to a new class of tech giants, most notably the video-conferencing app Zoom, whose market value quadrupled during the pandemic, making its founder the fastest-rising multibillionaire in Silicon Valley.

Food Delivery Apps Become Wall Street’s New Darling

With restaurants closed or operating at limited capacity for a year, food delivery apps have become a life essential for many of the 100 million regular restaurant eaters in the U.S.

Industrywide, online food delivery had grown nearly 30 percent from a year ago into a $136 billion sector by the end of 2020. Popular delivery apps became the new darlings of Wall Street, with DoorDash claiming a $72 billion valuation at a blockbuster initial public offering in December. Uber’s skyrocketing delivery business, through UberEats, saved the company’s bottom line as its ride-sharing business tumbled. A Year Into COVID-19, These Medical and Business Innovations Have Changed the World