Applications of VR during the SARS-COVID-19 Pandemic 

By Mohammed Akel (Spring 2023)

Virtual Reality (VR) has been used in various ways during the SARS-COVID-19 pandemic. As discussed in the "VR in Pandemic Preparedness and Prevention" section, VR technology is being rigorously tested to analyze how it can provide safe, scalable, and resource-efficient training for healthcare providers and students. During the COVID-19 pandemic, such training focused on training healthcare staff and students on how to appropriately use personal protective equipment, administer medical treatments and procedures, and overall patient care and well-being. VR was also used to mitigate the effect of social distancing and enhance experiences of telemedicine by proving more immersive and interactive remote care. In addition, VR was used to mitigate the effects of quarantining and "shelter in place" policies by providing people with a virtual escape to places that they could no longer visit. VR was also used to develop potential treatments and drugs. In general, parties tried to use VR to increase social interaction and reduce the toll of mental health issues. 

Overall, VR has been a valuable tool during the pandemic, providing ways to stay connected, entertained, and educated while reducing the risk of exposure to the virus; however, COVID-19 brought to the surface many of the systematic and institutional gaps in the healthcare system. Black, indigenous, and immigrant communities suffered the most while contributing the most labor, energy, time, and resources. The fragmentation and inherent racism of the healthcare system could no longer be avoided and swept under the carpet. This is particularly relevant to emerging technologies such as Virtual Reality. Concerns around the cost and accessibility of such technologies persist and are more felt than ever. In addition, concerns around privacy, ethics, and aggressive data collection should all be given the appropriate time, energy, and technical expertise. This is especially relevant in a climate where such technologies are barely regulated. Further, a comprehensive analysis of “unintended consequences” should be taken into account when using VR in times of distress and uncertainty; such concerns could include, fatigue, social isolation, compounded dental health issues, and addiction. 

The section below explores some of the available literature on the application of VR during the COVID-19 pandemic: 

Additional resources: