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What Seattle and San Francisco can teach us about mitigating the scourge of COVID-19

April 22, 2020, 9:06 PM UTC

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Seattle and San Francisco have managed to weather the coronavirus pandemic better than many other U.S. cities.

Part of the reason these tech-savvy metropolises are experiencing less coronavirus-related fallout can be attributed to effective government policies, Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky and Erika Fry said during an online discussion on Wednesday.

Although Lashinsky wrote an article in February about the “dysfunction of San Francisco government,” as he put it, he’s now “happy to be eating my words” considering that the city has had only 20 confirmed COVID-19 related deaths. While each death is a tragedy, “that’s also obviously a public health triumph,” Lashinsky said. 

“The mayor’s office has responded very well in San Francisco,” he said.

Regarding Seattle, Fry elaborated on her recent article about that city’s response to the pandemic and explained how the Challenge Seattle organization played a major role. That organization, led by former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, is made up of representatives from giant Seattle companies, including Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, Boeing, and Nordstrom

Although this business consortium typically discusses regional issues like affordable housing, Gregoire instead held a Feb. 25 meeting addressing the severity of the coronavirus based on early warnings from health experts. 

“These leaders had a frank, eye-opening talk,” Fry said. “They all left wanting to mobilize.”

That meeting would catalyze the business community to take the deadly virus seriously, and soon companies were discussing how soon they could send their employees home to work, thus mitigating any potential spread. With business leaders, government officials, and public health experts all coordinating and communicating the same messaging, Seattle was able to address the pandemic earlier than other cities, Fry explained.

As of April 21, there have been 373 confirmed deaths in King County, where Seattle is located, according to the Washington State Department of Health’s website.

Fry noted Microsoft president Brad Smith’s observation about how businesses and their vast supply networks and international connections can play an important role in helping governments act fast to deal with pandemics. Microsoft, for instance, was able to procure 250,000 N95 masks for Washington state, but those masks were stuck in a FedEx facility in Memphis. As Fry detailed in her article, Smith called a contact on the White’s House’s National Security Council. “They were released by the next morning,” she said.  

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