Prior to COVID-19, habits such as shaking hands, sharing a drink, using public restrooms, blowing out the candles on your birthday cake, and attending highly populated events like concerts or festivals were all widely commonplace.
Now, though, people have looked back on pre-pandemic practices with disgust after realizing just how quickly germs can spread from people and objects.
Yet, in 2016, a middle school teacher from Florida named Todd Brown and a computational geneticist at the Broad Institute of MIT, Pardis Sabeti, already recognized just how quickly outbreaks– and ultimate pandemics– can manifest.
That year, they developed an interactive lesson to teach middle schoolers about infectious diseases.
The students were provided with stickers that, when exchanged, simulated the rapid spread of viral infection.
And since then, the low-budget lesson has evolved into an entirely immersive experience known as Operation Outbreak.
Operation Outbreak utilizes a Bluetooth-based mobile application in order to simulate the spread of pathogens across participants’ phones.
Now, over fifty schools nationwide have begun using this app as a lesson plan supplement to inform students about the reality of pandemics.
“Simulation games can be highly immersive, interactive, and realistic, as well as able to generate rich datasets to study complex dynamical systems– such as a population during an infectious disease outbreak,” the app’s developer, Andrés Colubri, explained.