COVID-19: Analysis, resources and how you can help [visible to anyone with the link]

80,000 Hours provides research and advice to help people find careers that help solve the world’s most pressing problems.

This page presents all our content related to the COVID-19 crisis, and other resources we’ve found helpful. It covers how to understand the crisis, how to tackle it, ideas for dealing with self-isolation, and how you could use your career to help prevent future pandemics.

We’re updating this page regularly. Please contact us to suggest improvements, opportunities to help, or if you notice mistakes.

Last update: 2020-03-28 XX:XX GMT

Coping with COVID-19

These are difficult times. If you’re social distancing or working from home for the first time, this article on self-care may be helpful.

If you’re feeling OK, but at a loose end while distancing, consider how you could help address the crisis (see below). You could also frame this time as an opportunity to work on personal development, planning your next career move or any of these meaningful things one can do while stuck at home.

Help tackle COVID-19

As a society, how can we tackle it?

Practically everyone agrees that we need to:

  1. Do research to understand the disease and to develop new treatments and a vaccine.
  2. Determine the right policies, both for public health and the economic response.
  3. Increase healthcare capacity, especially for testing, ventilators, personal protective equipment, and critical care.
  4. Slow the spread through testing & isolating cases, as well as mass advocacy to promote social distancing and other key behaviours, buying us more time to do the above.
  5. We also need to keep society functioning through the progression of the pandemic.

There has been a debate about whether to focus on ‘suppression’ or ‘mitigation’. Suppression involves strict social distancing, aiming to reduce the number of cases, and keep them low until we have better treatment options. Mitigation aims to slow the spread and protect especially vulnerable groups, but employs less social distancing than suppression, with the advantage that we’d likely return to normal life more quickly.

Each option involves terrible costs, but if we can effectively employ the right strategy, we can reduce these costs as much as possible, and potentially save tens of millions of lives.

Currently, most countries seem to have decided on the suppression strategy. Here’s a short explanation of how we might use suppression to defeat COVID-19, and the arguments for and against, written by our Director of Research, Rob Wiblin.

Ways of contributing

Many people will find their best opportunities to help in their local community – supporting health workers, driving delivery vans, helping friends and family, looking after neighbours, and so on – or in donating money. If you already play a role in providing essential services it’s likely that working hard at your day job, while making efforts to avoid spreading the virus, is one of the most valuable things you can do.

It’s also important to remember that the rest of the world’s problems have not gone away. If you’re already on a career path that you think is high-impact, then unless you have rare skills that are urgently needed, your best bet is probably to practice social distancing and good hygiene, but otherwise continue with your existing path.

That said, there are opportunities to help that some of our readers may be exceptionally well-placed to pursue. We’ve prepared two articles to help those who are thinking about how they can help:

A long list of opportunities

Below is a list of opportunities to help the global response to COVID-19. The list is focussed on opportunities in research, policy, technology and startups. We focus on opportunities in the US and UK, because most of our audience is based there. Please tell us about opportunities in other locations that we should add to this list.

Warning: we have not carefully reviewed the organisations and opportunities on these lists. Most items on this list are included simply on the grounds that we have seen the project mentioned by an individual or institution we trust, or even just that we (as non-experts) have glanced at the relevant project and thought it seemed at least somewhat promising. Please contact us to suggest improvements to this list.

Groups that are hiring or seeking volunteers

Update 2020-05: We’re now listing COVID-19 opportunities on our job board.

We previously published a list of groups that are hiring or seeking volunteers. It may still be useful, but we are no longer updating it.

Funding opportunities

This list was last updated on 2020-04-10. We are no longer updating this list, though you may still find it useful.

Help prevent the next pandemic

If you’d like to help prevent the next disaster like this, consider a career in biosecurity and pandemic preparedness (or suggest it to someone you know).

To learn more, see our problem profile on global catastrophic biological risks.

Biorisk strategy and policy is among the “priority paths” we encourage people to consider as a high impact career. Below is our primer on the path:

We’ve argued that pandemics can pose global catastrophic risks, in particular as advances in bioengineering make it possible to create engineered pandemics that are even more deadly than naturally occurring ones.

There is already a significant community working on pandemic prevention, and there are many ways to contribute to this field. However, most of the existing work is focused on naturally-caused pandemics like those we’ve seen in the past and COVID-19 (though this is starting to change a bit). While these are very important to mitigate, we think it’s even more important to prevent pandemics that pose catastrophic risks, especially those that might totally end human civilisation. There is substantial overlap between work that mitigates these known pandemic risks and more extreme risks, so work in the one is also helpful for work in the other; still, work that is particularly focused on the extreme risks seems somewhat neglected in the field right now.

For reasons our profile explains, catastrophic pandemics seem more likely to be human-caused, and perhaps even deliberately caused. So they may be more well-targeted by security and biodefence interventions than conventional public health ones. Moreover, much past funding for work on bioterrorism seems to have focused on more well-known risks such as anthrax, which doesn’t pose a catastrophic risk.

This means that despite significant existing work on pandemic prevention, global catastrophic biological risks seem neglected.

We rate biorisk as a less pressing issue than AI safety, mainly because we think biorisks are less likely to be truly existential, and AI seems more likely to play a key role in shaping the long-term future in other ways. However, working to prevent catastrophic pandemics seems very high value to us, and can easily be your top option if you have a comparative advantage in this path (e.g., a background in medicine).

We can roughly divide this path into working in government and related organizations on the one hand, and working in research on the other.

The main line of defence against these risks is government, so it’s valuable to build up a community of experts in relevant areas of national government and intergovernmental organisations. These include:

  • The US Centers for Disease Control
  • The World Health Organization
  • The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
  • The FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate
  • Other US departments, like the ones listed here

You could also work in relevant think tanks, such as the Center for Health Security or nonprofits like the Nuclear Threat Initiative. These experts help develop and implement policies. Again, see our problem profile for global catastrophic risks for more.

Another option is to work in academia. This involves developing a relevant area of expertise, such as synthetic biology, genetics, public health, epidemiology, international relations, security studies, or political science. Note that it’s possible—and at times beneficial—to start by studying a quantitative subject (sometimes even to graduate level), and then switch into biology later. Quantitative skills are in demand in biology and give you better back-up options.

Once you’ve completed training, you could do a number of things—including but not limited to: research on directly useful technical questions (such as how to create broad-spectrum diagnostics or rapidly deploy vaccines), research on strategic questions (such as how dangerous technologies should be controlled), or advising for policy-makers and other groups on the relevant issues. One top research centre you could aim to work at is the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford.

As with AI strategy, the study of global catastrophic biological risk is still a nascent field. This again can make it hard to contribute, since—although progress is being made—we don’t yet know which research questions are most important, and there is often a shortage of mentorship.

This means that there’s an especially pressing need for more “field building” or “disentanglement” research, with the aim of defining the field. If you might be able to do this kind of work, then your contribution is especially valuable since you can unlock the efforts of other researchers. The main home for most of this kind of research with a long-term focus right now is the Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford.

If you’re not able to contribute to disentanglement research right now, there are several other things you can do, including: (i) tackle more straightforward relevant research questions, (ii) work in more mainstream biorisk organisations to build up expertise, (iii) focus on policy positions with the aim of building a community and expertise, or (iv) become an expert on a relevant area of biology, international relations, or a related field.

One advantage of working on biorisk is that many of the top positions seem somewhat less competitive than in AI technical safety work, because they don’t require world-class quantitative skills.

Besides pandemic risks, we’re also interested in how to safely manage the introduction of other potentially transformative discoveries in biology which could be used to fundamentally alter human characteristics and values (such as genetic engineering) and anti-ageing research. We see these issues as somewhat less pressing than the possibility of engineered pandemics, but they provide another reason to develop expertise in these areas.

Often the way to enter this path is to pursue relevant graduate studies (such as in the subjects listed above) because this takes you along the academic path, and is also helpful in the policy path, where many positions require graduate study. Alternatively, you can try to directly enter relevant jobs in government, international organisations, or nonprofits, and build expertise on the job.

The backup options for this path depend on what expertise you have, but they include other options in the policy realm—it’s usually possible to switch your focus within a policy career. You could also work on adjacent research questions that also have the potential to make a positive difference, such as in global health, ageing, or genetics. These backup options seem generally attractive, though somewhat less promising and more competitive than the ones made available by pursuing AI safety policy or technical research (which is one reason we rank this path a bit lower).

Could this be a good fit for you?

  • Are you deeply concerned with reducing catastrophic risks, and especially extinction risks?
  • Do you have reasonably strong quantitative skills? (They don’t need to be as strong as they do for AI fields.)
  • Do you already have experience in a relevant research area relevant to biology (such as those listed above)?
  • Might you be capable of getting a PhD from a top 30 school in one of these areas? This isn’t required but is a good indicator. Read more about predicting success in research.
  • If focused on field-building research, can you take on messy, ill-defined questions, and come up with reasonable assessments about them?
  • Are you able to be discreet about sensitive information concerning biodefence?
  • If focused on policy, might you be capable of getting and being satisfied in a relevant position in government? In policy, it’s useful to have relatively stronger social skills, such as being happy to speak to people all day, and being able to maintain a robust professional network. Policy careers also require patience in working with large bureaucracies, and sometimes also involve facing public scrutiny.

Key reading

Other reading

Podcast interviews

We’ve interviewed several people who are working on biorisk. Each episode page includes a transcript and links to further reading.

Opportunities to work on biorisk

A short list of organisations working on biorisks can be found here. It is a bit out of date, we will update it in the next week or two.

Our job board lists some roles related to biorisk, and will have more in the coming weeks.

Social media updates

We’re posting updates on Twitter and Facebook. Robert Wiblin, our Director of Research, is also posting on Twitter and Facebook.

Howie Lempel, our Strategy Advisor, has shared a list of people he follows on Twitter to keep up with news and analysis on COVID-19.

Further reading on COVID-19

Academic resources

Approaches of specific countries

Dashboards, models, figures and data analysis

Projects being undertaken by individuals and groups

Highly simplified explanations for rapid understanding

Pharmaceutical and medical interventions


One: Estimates of fatality and hospitalisation rates by age

Two: Do you have COVID, or is it more likely something else?
Note: In the time since this graphic was created, we’ve heard preliminary reports that diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues may be the primary early symptoms for a moderate number of patients.

Three: A simple visualisation of exponential growth

Other news stories lifted from Hacker News that may be useful

Wikipedia on country outbreaks

Government resources

See also this list of resources from the folks at LessWrong.

Get notified when we update this page

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