The following question and answers caught my attention in particular.
Bill Gates AMA on Covid-19 - Some question and answers.
Q: What about the current crisis worries you the most? What gives you the most hope?
Bill: The current phase has a lot of the cases in rich countries. With the right actions including the testing and social distancing (which I call “shut down”) within 2-3 months the rich countries should have avoided high levels of infection. I worry about all the economic damage but even worse will be how this will affect the developing countries who cannot do the social distancing the same way as rich countries and whose hospital capacity is much lower.
Q: I read the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team report as well as this explanation in a historical context. Essentially, it says that by doing nothing, 4 million Americans die. Through the mitigation strategy—i.e. social distancing and “flattening the curve”— it says that 1.1-2 million Americans will die. However, it also says that the suppression strategy, or “shutting everything down for 18 months”—will lead to only a few thousand people dying.
Do you agree with these numbers, and if so, is there any excuse for not immediately issuing a shelter in place order for the entire country?
Bill: Fortunately it appears the parameters used in that model were too negative. The experience in China is the most critical data we have. They did their “shut down” and were able to reduce the number of cases. They are testing widely so they see rebounds immediately and so far there have not been a lot. They avoided widespread infection. The Imperial model does not match this experience. Models are only as good as the assumptions put into them. People are working on models that match what we are seeing more closely and they will become a key tool. A group called Institute for Disease Modeling that I fund is one of the groups working with others on this.
Q: How is the economy likely to recover after all of this in your opinion?
Bill: Yes eventually. The economic impact of the “shut down” will be large but if it is done well (including the testing piece which I keep mentioning) eventually we can open back up.
Q: How is your foundation helping the current pandemic? Are you donating money, producing products for health workers?
Bill: Our foundation is working with all the groups who make diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines to make sure the right efforts are prioritized. We want to make sure all countries get access to these tools. We donated $100M in February for a variety of things and we will be doing more. One priority is to make sure that there is enough manufacturing capacity for therapeutics and vaccines. We have other efforts like our education group working to make sure the online resources for students are as helpful as they can be.
Q: Is there anything you can do to assist with ventilator production?
Bill: There are a lot of efforts to do this. If we do social distancing (“shut down”) properly then the surge of cases won’t be as overwhelming. Our foundation’s expertise is in diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines so we are not involved in the ventilator efforts but it could make a contribution to have more especially as the disease gets into developing countries including Africa.
Q: What do you see as the long-term strategy for fighting this pandemic and do you feel like it will adequately prepare us for the next?
Bill: I think that after this is under control that Governments and others will invest heavily in being ready for the next one. This will take global cooperation particularly to help the developing countries who will be hurt the most. A good example is the need to test therapeutics wherever the disease is to help the whole world. The Virus doesn't respect national boundaries.