A community of optimists hosted by Melinda French Gates

In pandemic, your actions can help save lives

A healthcare worker wearing a yellow gown and blue gloves holds her hands up to her temples to adjust her personal protective face shield at a drive-thru coronavirus testing center
A medical professional from Children's National Hospital works at a COVID-19 drive-thru testing site at Trinity University
Photo by Drew Angerer | Getty Images
I spend a lot of time these days on video calls with our foundation’s COVID-19 response team.

Between those meetings, I check in on friends confronting the disease firsthand. One moment, I receive updates on disease-tracking models. The next, I hear that someone I know is struggling to breathe.

Our foundation is no stranger to disease outbreaks. We have worked on efforts to combat HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and Ebola. But we’ve never faced a crisis of this magnitude in our own backyard.

The world typically rotates on its axis at about 1,000 miles an hour. For many of us now, it feels like it’s spinning a million miles an hour. Here is some guidance drawn from evidence and experience that may help us find our footing:
Experts and frontline health workers are rising to meet this challenge — and counting on you to do the same.

Our foundation has swiftly deployed funding and expertise to support a wide range of responses, and every day brings new reasons for optimism.

Although it likely will be at least 18 months before a vaccine is available, multiple vaccine efforts are moving forward at full speed, several led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which our foundation helped create in 2017.

To identify and test promising treatments, we recently helped launch a Therapeutics Accelerator that connects experts to the resources they need to move quickly.

And just last week, the results of a study we helped design led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve a new safer, faster and less invasive testing method that may accelerate widespread testing.

In the meantime, all of us can do our part to slow the spread of this disease — and buy time for the people helping us to fight it — by following the advice of the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to wash our hands and stay at home as much as possible.

One day, you may need that nurse. Until then, that nurse needs you.
A group of nurses wearing scrubs, protective face masks, and hair nets stand outside applauding other essential staff and healthworkers
Health workers applaud medical staff and essential workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City
Photo by Noam Galai | Getty Image
Poverty compounds disease.

Although handwashing and physical distancing are the most important tools we have to stop the spread of COVID-19, they are not available to everyone equally.

It’s hard to maintain good hand hygiene when you live without running water in a tent city in Seattle or a township in Cape Town, South Africa. It is nearly impossible to practice physical distancing when you share a single room with five family members in a crowded neighborhood in Delhi, India. If you’re a grocery store worker who lives one paycheck away from eviction, making the decision to call in sick until your sore throat goes away comes with an enormous price.

Poverty and disease are linked. Prioritizing the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable people — in this country and around the world — is essential to stopping transmission and bringing this pandemic to an end for everyone.
Men and women experience disease outbreaks differently.

COVID-19 appears to have a higher mortality rate among men, and we need to learn why. But its broader impact will likely fall disproportionately on women.

Women make up roughly 70% of the world’s health and social sector workforce, and they perform, on average, more than twice as much unpaid caregiving as men do. Whether at a hospital or at home, women’s role in taking care of others increases their risk for infection.

What’s more, because women are overrepresented in the lowest-paying sectors, they are especially vulnerable in times of recession. When health systems are strained, maternal mortality rates rise. And as emergency responders in China’s Hubei Province can attest, when women are locked at home with abusive partners, domestic violence goes up.

Inevitably, some people will argue that we should table conversations about gender equality until we get through this emergency. But the disease and its effects are not gender neutral. Our response cannot be either.
You are making enormous sacrifices for others. And you will see that they are doing the same for you.

Americans are being called on in extraordinary ways. And make no mistake: Your actions matter. They have likely already saved lives.

While, as experts expected, the number of cases is still going up for now, there is evidence that places that have adopted physical distancing are already seeing the rate of disease transmission start to decrease. (This new tool can help you understand when the virus is likely to peak in your state.) The curve you’ve heard so much about is indeed going to flatten — and if you’re following experts’ advice, you’re part of the reason why.

You may have seen a video that has been shared around the world, a stirring rendition of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” performed by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. In better times, this renowned orchestra performs shoulder-to-shoulder in a concert hall that seats more than 2,000. In this video, each musician is alone, at home, playing to an empty room. I read that it took a week of editing to combine the individual recordings, and the effect is stunning.

What is most moving to me, though, is imagining the measure of faith the performers summoned as they tested out lighting and acoustics and camera angles — and prepared to play their hearts out in time with an orchestra they couldn’t hear for an audience visible only in their imaginations.

That is the position many of us find ourselves in now, too — alone, at home, contributing whatever it is we have to contribute and trusting that others are doing the same. In the weeks ahead, as the number of new cases starts to drop, we will have proof to substantiate our faith that each one of us was part of something much bigger all along.