Kid’s Solutions to the Pandemic from Future Problem Solving

Posted September 23, 2020 by Joshua neubert

*This is a guest post from Addie Boswell and the Future Problem Solving Program – a creative problem solving program involving thousands of students from around the world each year. Learn more about Future Problem Solving here*


More than a decade ago, I wrote a Pandemic-themed scenario for students in the Future Problem Solving Program to, well, solve. When March 2020 imploded in the U.S., I dusted that document off. Here’s what it said:


In the year 2035, an unidentified RNA virus is spreading rapidly, causing an array of flu-like symptoms: cough, fever, shortness of breath, headaches, body aches, and diarrhea. Within two weeks, many victims develop pneumonia and/or acute respiratory distress syndrome, which leads to difficulty breathing and can result in organ failure.


The future virus originated in dead animals after a flood in Ethiopia, and quickly spread from refugees and first responders to the general population. Death rate was estimated at 10% and only one anti-viral (Xifan) had shown any relevance, only when taken within 48 hours. With shortages of hospital staff, ICU beds, isolation rooms, and ventilators, the WHO predicted that every inhabited continent would be forced to deal with this pandemic.


Sound familiar? Based on this scenario, students in 3rd-12th grades proposed all sorts of challenges that have now come to pass in 2020: naval contagion, financial collapse, price-gouging, production chain stoppage, and more. But perhaps more importantly, they proposed solutions. Here are just a few of the ideas that these Future Problem Solvers identified and how they stack up with real-time actions from adults in our current pandemic.



See how the kids suggestions stack up…                        to real-time adult actions.

The government will use NASA satellites to create a Global Surveillance System to help predict where the virus will show up next and warn people away.



In June, NASA collaborated with the European and Japanese space agencies on a dashboard of satellite data. It documents planet-wide changes to the environment and socioeconomic activity, and with enough modelling and data collection, may be used to predict outbreaks in the future.

The WHO will create a finger-prick Virus diagnosis system, similar to a diabetes blood sugar measurement, for doctors to accurately triage patients.



As of June, the rapid diagnostic tests are neither as fast or as plentiful as hoped and rely on nasal swabs. Antibody finger-prick tests have been developed but have so far been unreliable. These tests should be coming.

WHO will recruit volunteers who have recovered to form the Blue Nile Volunteer Corps to take care of the sick, dispose of bodies, and fill in jobs at critical industries, which will relieve strain on hospitals. NO

Though recoverees have donated plasma, scientists remain unsure if the infected have sufficient antibodies and if they last. A volunteer corps– and the troublesome idea of “covid badges” – remains unlikely.

The CDC will develop Reverse Transcriptase Nucleoside Analogues (developed in experimental phase as HIV medications) which terminate the genetic data’s replication when they attach to the new genetic material.


YES (trials underway)

Multiple Nucleoside & Nucleotide Analogues that are used in cancer and HIV treatments are in trial now, with Remdesivir the most promising in shortening recovery time so far.

Universities will develop genetically modified viral vectors, putting a small portion of the bad virus DNA or RNA into a harmless virus which is injected into the host.


YES (trials underway)

Many universities, pharmaceutical companies, and governments are betting on a COVID-19 vaccine from genetically engineered viruses, (called adenoviral vectors.) The FDA just fast-tracked two candidates, but it remains to be seen if they work and can be scaled.

The medical manufacturers of vaccines will give intellectual property to the WHO in exchange for a 10% royalty on profits


The WHO will temporarily suspend the patent on Xifan, allowing governments to produce their own, until the pandemic is over.



WHO launched a voluntary pool for patent rights and other data, and an international group of scientists and lawyers started the Open COVID Pledge to encourage patent sharing among large companies. But the U.S. hasn’t joined, and international warring makes the theory shaky.

Scientists will create the Color Smart, a microchip implemented in the body and connected to computer software. It will change to black if virus is indicated. NOT EXACTLY

Many wearable sensors are in production to try to detect symptoms and predict coronavirus. For example, NBA players are testing the OURA smart ring, which measures temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate, and sleeping patterns, and syncs with a smartphone.

The Maritime Association will requisition several large cruise liners and retrofit them as floating hospitals, with the benefit of being isolated at sea.



Carnival Corporation has offered up its cruise ships for this purpose, and the U.S. Navy provided some hospital ships to coastal areas, but the idea hasn’t caught fire – perhaps because early outbreaks on cruise ships were so difficult to control.

Businesses will appoint a pandemic manager, who will arrange the floors, introduce a shift-work system, and plan thorough cleaning. All non-essential meetings and training sessions will be online via tele-immersion or tele-working.


YES and NO

Remote working is a success story and may be the new norm. And some companies have employed risk management teams and safety consultants to transition back to the office. But usually individual managers are responsible for interpreting and applying health guidelines.

If an individual is deathly ill, scientists will use cryogenics, giving them shots of Trehlose into the bloodstream. Frozen bodies will be transported to a warehouse until a vaccine is created. POSSIBLE

Though Cryonics organizations have not been able to revive people yet, cryopreservation is a reality. It is therefore possible that a Covid-19 patient could be frozen to await vaccines, though governments and medical associations in no ways support the idea.


Like many adults, I’m proud of students who are paving the way for international collaboration and innovation. Reading through their solutions from a decade ago – probable, possible, even unthinkable — I am inspired by the ingenuity and willpower of the youth that responded to this 2009 hypothetical problem. These kids are young adults now and heir to the mess we make today. I pray they remember their grand and noble ideas.


Future Problem Solving is an international program involving thousands of students annually from around the world. Developed in 1974 by creativity pioneer Dr. E. Paul Torrance, Future Problem Solving (FPS) provides competitive and non-competitive components for today’s curriculum via a six-step model which teaches critical and creative thinking, problem solving, and decision making. 


Don’t miss out on the 2020-21 Future Problem Solving Season. Get registered today!


Addie Boswell is a writer and artist in Portland, Oregon, specializing in community-based murals and children’s picture books. She has been involved with the FPS program for three decades, as a student, evaluator and writer, in Iowa and Washington state, and thinks every functioning government should use the FPS process on sticky situations.