Early on a Saturday morning in January, Juan Lavista-Ferres, who leads Microsoft’s AI for Good analysis lab, penned an pressing electronic mail to his staff. Though there have been fewer than 2,000 instances worldwide of a yet-unnamed illness with little information accessible, he warned that one thing critical was coming.

“The reported cases follow a very scary exponential curve,” he wrote. “In this type of virus outbreak we typically expect this type of curve, but the rate shows that the virus is spreading very fast. If the data is accurate and the outbreak is not stopped soon, it can reach 70,000 cases in late February, and potentially millions after that.”

Simply over a month later, after a number of constructive instances of what’s now referred to as COVID-19 had been confirmed in Washington state, and the primary dying within the U.S. from the illness occurred on the Life Care Heart nursing facility in a Seattle suburb, Microsoft turned one of many first main U.S. employers to insist all however these deemed important staff, or round 2% of the workforce, keep residence to remain secure.

Juan Lavista-Ferres

And Lavista-Ferres, a knowledge scientist, joined a set of specialists introduced collectively from a number of groups at Microsoft — physicians, epidemiologists, catastrophe specialists — who had quietly been working behind the scenes to arrange and defend staff from simply such an occasion. Working collectively, this collective would now play a essential position in informing Microsoft’s senior management, accountable for deciding subsequent steps for workers and the corporate, round a second whose subsequent steps had been unknown.

The choice to require tens of 1000’s of individuals to earn a living from home, and communication between giant employers within the Puget Sound area and authorities entities, helped sluggish the unfold of COVID-19 within the early days of the native outbreak within the Seattle space. However maybe as essential, the swift and robust response indicated to the broader inhabitants the seriousness of the problem being confronted with an simply transmissible, lethal virus that also right now has no treatment.

Microsoft’s perspective was rooted not solely within the broad experience of the specialists working collectively to assist inform the response, but in addition within the firm’s international expertise, studying from colleagues all over the world already dealing with the illness.

By mid-January, Colleen Daly, Microsoft’s main contact when there’s a communicable illness outbreak, was deeply concerned within the firm’s COVID-19 response with staff in China, Singapore and Italy. As international wellness advantages supervisor, her day job has lengthy centered on executing the corporate’s technique round bodily and psychological well being. She’s been concerned in Microsoft’s response to previous outbreaks, together with Ebola, Zika and smaller clusters of measles, tuberculosis and whooping cough.

Daly has a Ph.D. in public well being specializing in well being companies analysis and occupational well being — or the examine of healthcare methods, economies and insurance policies — and a grasp’s diploma in public well being specializing in well being behaviors and epidemiology.

Illustration of Coleen Daly
Colleen Daly

Daly quickly turned a fixture to assist lead the pandemic response calls involving Microsoft Chief Govt Officer Satya Nadella and his senior management staff to determine the corporate’s subsequent steps, starting every with an replace on the newest from Seattle, King County and Washington state well being officers.

“These connections have been pivotal,” she says of the public-private coordination. Daly has additionally been impressed by the “thoughtfulness and care” taken by Microsoft’s senior management staff in addition to the emphasis on the significance of science to tell determination making.

“They’re trusting the subject matter experts they have hired. You can’t underestimate the value in that,” she says. “I think this is also Satya Nadella’s perspective, and the idea of growth mindset that he’s shared with employees over the past few years, to support understanding and learning versus being scared to share information. That foundation has been so important in our response to this.”

Although already steeped on this work throughout the corporate, Daly says she’s been stunned by the extent of inside know-how Microsoft has been capable of deliver to this disaster. “I didn’t realize how much public health expertise we have in this company.”

She already had established relationships along with her counterparts in native, county and state authorities, so when the decision got here in that COVID-19 was turning into extra critical in Washington, she was nicely positioned to assist lead the trouble.

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