LLast year, four days after the first recorded death from Covid-19 in the United States was reported in Kirkland, Washington, just east of Seattle, Microsoft executives took action – recommending to their area employees to work from home. Two days later, Amazon made a similar statement.
Together, their announcements affected more than 100,000 employees at this Pacific Northwest tech hub, and came days before the Washington state governor’s first major term on Covid and more than a week before the president US declares an emergency for Covid.
The decision of two of the region’s biggest tech companies as the region suddenly found itself at the center of the country’s coronavirus pandemic set the tone for other local businesses, explained Dr Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). ), a research center that produces a wide range of projections on Covid.
“It made it much more likely that everyone would send people home. And that meant we had the anticipated decline in transmission sooner, even sooner than state warrants arrived, ”he told The Guardian. “And I think – as trendsetters – was a really important thing as large employers in the region.”
He added, “What we’ve learned is that the earlier you act, the more impact it has on the transmission. Moving forward on the transmission really makes a huge difference. “
King County has gone from the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the United States to the lowest death rate compared to the 20 most populous counties in the country, according to data sent to the Johns Hopkins University Guardian. The New York Times also reported earlier this month that the Seattle area has the lowest death rate compared to the 20 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. The county also has the lowest rate of cases per million population.
While many factors surely contributed to such a big change, health and business experts in the region point to the role the local tech industry has played since the early days of the virus. From Microsoft and Amazon to Qumulo and Tableau, these companies have worked across industries and, in some cases, with key competitors to lead and support the effort to fight this deadly virus and help those most affected by it. this one in their own backyard.
There were the employees of Amperity, an AI-based data management company in Seattle, who helped build a website for The Plate Fund, which supports jobless restaurant workers, as well as the donation. over 85,000 Facebook Seattle gloves, masks and thermometers. through the King County Regional Giving Connector. There was also Tableau, which developed the data visualization software King County used to raise awareness about the virus, and SmartSheet, a software company in Bellevue, just east of Seattle, which started to offer his coronavirus preparedness model free of charge.
“I would definitely say they had a big impact,” said Dr. Jay Shendure, a geneticist at the University of Washington School of Medicine who was involved in the detection of the first report of a case of community transmission. in the USA. “From the point of view of being large employers, through some kind of effective philanthropic support from the community during the crisis. And through, sort of, some of those activities that take advantage of their capabilities in terms of the technology itself.
He gave the example of WA Notify, a state contact tracing tool that recruited over a quarter of the population in its first few months. It is derived from the CommonCircle application, originally developed by UW Computer Science and Microsoft Research.
Microsoft and Amazon have also stepped in, Shendure said with regard to the Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network (Scan), a research study examining how the virus is spreading throughout the region (Shendure is also one of its main researchers). While Amazon has shipped nearly 4,000 test kits, Microsoft has created the Scan HealthBot, which provides an easy way for epidemiologists to collect important information from those tested.
But Shendure noted the issue of fairness during the pandemic in that region and beyond when it comes to testing, access to care, and the toll the virus places on some communities over others. Research shows that communities of color are more exposed to the virus and have been disproportionately affected. One way this disparity can manifest itself, he explained, is access to technology and the many digital tools that are particularly useful in the fight against the coronavirus.
Michael Schutzler, CEO of the Washington Technology Industry Association, said that as of March 3 last year, a group of more than 100 CEOs of local tech companies across the state began hosting virtual meetings near -weekly to discuss the virus and how they might help.
They provided laptops, donated to relief organizations and connected with government officials so they could offer whatever help they needed most. But one of their first key discussions was about in-person work.
“We immediately shut down our operations and said to our members, ‘This is what we are doing, here is why we are doing it, and we think you should really seriously consider doing the same’… And we helped encourage a lot. people to shut down long before there is a lockdown order, ”Schutzler said.
Weeks later, when it became clear just how much impact Covid and its closures would have on the Seattle area, another group of about 20 community members came together to quickly launch an effort to fundraiser called All In Seattle.
It aimed to “raise awareness of the need and help people, get people to donate immediately to organizations that are already helping,” said Jill Singh, a community volunteer, who, along with her husband, Rajeev Singh, CEO of the local health technology company Accolade was instrumental in this work.
With the help of employees from Accolade and Amperity, they created a website and started spreading the word on social media. In 72 hours, they had raised $ 27 million from 200 donors, including tech giants like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Tableau’s Adam Selipsky, and Zillow’s Rich Barton – and led this funding to a wide range of local organizations.
Although much of the initial effort by the local tech industry was directed towards the immediate community, the impact tended to be much broader in scope.
IHME, which is based in Seattle, released its U.S. Covid-19 forecast for each state in the United States on March 26, which was the first such projections at the state level. Murray explained that within two days their results began to be used at White House press briefings and their website traffic reached millions.
Recognizing the need to continue to quickly disseminate this data, they turned to Microsoft to help them accelerate their modeling and Qumulo, a local data storage company, to help with data growth. Then Redapt, a nearby technology solutions provider, donated a badly needed $ 200,000 GPU server so they could use it for this job.
According to data provided to the Guardian by the IHME, the average number of deaths in King County is expected to drop from April and reach zero in October. Its number of cases is expected to follow a similar trajectory.
But with the emergence of new variants and the lifting of restrictions (Microsoft said Monday it would give Seattle-area employees the option to start working in offices), it’s unclear what the future holds. their reserve.
One area to watch as the pandemic continues to unfold will be the relationship between the tech and healthcare industry. Matt McIlwain, chief executive of Madrona Venture Group and board member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said these trusting relationships have been a key factor in Seattle’s work to fight the virus during the last year.
“That, I think, really helped the Seattle community come together, work together, and solve problems, you know, that was important to solve.”