Bill Gates Warns That Coronavirus Impact Could Be ‘Very, Very Dramatic’

Bill Gates spoke with broad optimism about the potential for technology to address some of the globe's biggest challenges, but struck an ominous tone Friday in discussing the threat posed by the coronavirus as the outbreak outpaces the best efforts of doctors and health workers.

The impact could be "very, very dramatic," the billionaire philanthropist said, addressing a standing-room-only audience during his keynote address at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Seattle. He called it a "potentially very bad situation."


Gates pointed to advances in molecular diagnostic tools as one promising safeguard against such outbreaks, but warned that the situation could become especially difficult if the deadly coronavirus pneumonia starts to spread in Africa. As he was speaking, news broke that the first case of coronavirus had been confirmed on the continent, as a person in Egypt tested positive for the disease.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently committed $100 million to fighting coronavirus.

One of the big challenges, Gates noted, is the infectious nature of coronavirus earlier in the cycle of the disease, impacting the general population. That's in contrast earlier challenges such as Ebola, which were more dangerous to health workers attempting to treat people who were sick.

Key questions, he said, are "will this get into Africa or not, and if so, will those health systems get overwhelmed?" Later, he added, "This disease, if it's in Africa, is more dramatic than if it's in China," noting that he was "not trying to minimize what's going on in China in any way."

Margaret Hamburg, chair of the AAAS board of directors, cited the past outbreaks of diseases such as SARS and Ebola, and the cycle of "crisis, concern and then complacency," that often follow them. She asked Gates what it will finally take to ensure that adequate preventative measures are in place.

Referring to advances and price reductions in molecular diagnostic tools, Gates responded, "certainly the good news is that just the plain old horizontal advances in how we make these tools will help us."

"We have a plan to get those machines fairly pervasive in developing countries," he said, referring to the work of the Gates Foundation and its partners. "Within a decade, the capacity to create diagnostic capability will be better off."

The ability to create new vaccines should help, as well, Gates said.

"There's been a huge under-investment in therapeutics, particularly antivirals," he said, adding that he believes China could "step up" in that regard once the current crisis passes. He didn't offer a timeline, however, for when he thinks that might happen.

This story first appeared on GeekWire.

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On this week's episode of LA Venture, hear from Marcos Gonzalez, the managing partner at Vamos Ventures, a seed-stage venture fund which invests in Latino and diverse founders. Over half of L.A. County is Latino. A relatively new fund, investments are in the range of $100,000 to $500,000. Seems like a great time to be investing in this community! And, Vamos is hiring...

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El Segundo-based telemedicine technology provider Cloudbreak Health and Florida-based UpHealth Holdings, a digital healthcare provider, announced they will combine and go public via a SPAC in a deal that values the combined companies at $1.35 billion.

Named UpHealth, Inc., the new company aims to streamline online health care by becoming a single provider of four different services: telehealth, teletherapy, a health care appointment and management system and an online pharmacy.

UpHealth runs healthcare platform Thrasys Inc. and MedQuest Pharmacy, along with two other behavioral health companies. The merger with Cloudbreak, which under the pandemic expanded their interpretation services to remote medicine, will give the new company a foothold in almost 2,000 hospitals.

"What we wanted to do was form a business that could really be a digital infrastructure for health care across the continuum of care, right from home to hospital," said Jamey Edwards, the co-founder and CEO of Cloudbreak. Under the agreement, he will become the company's chief operating officer.

GigCapital2 expects the merger transaction to close at the start of Q1 2021. UpHealth will be publicly traded under the ticker "UPH" on the New York Stock Exchange. UpHealth's integrated care management platform serves over 5 million people, and is expected to reach 40 million over the next three years, according to the company.

Jamey Edwards, Cloudbreak

Jamey Edwards, co-founder and executive director of Cloudbreak

COVID-19 caused a meteoric growth in the use of telehealth services. In February, 0.1% of Medicare primary visits were provided through telehealth. In April, that number was nearly 44%, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"Key stakeholders have seen and responded well to the benefits that telemedicine can bring, but they need a more comprehensive, integrated solution," said Al Gatmaitan, who has been named the co-chief executive officer of UpHealth. "This is what UpHealth focuses on, the adoption of digital health solutions well beyond the pandemic crisis."

The deal with the blank check company GigCapital2 gives the two digital health companies access to a wider network. UpHealth and its family of companies operate in 10 countries and their pharmacy has 13,000 e-prescribers in the U.S.


UpHealth will use the Cloudbreak platform as part of their global telehealth services to provide patients with round-the-clock care under a variety of specialties, including telepsychiatry and tele-urology. UpHealth also has contracts internationally, to provide country-wide care in India, Southeast Asia and Africa.

Edwards joined Cloudbreak in 2008 when it went from public to private. It has raised $35 million in venture funds, most recently in the first quarter of this year scoring $10 million from Columbia Partners Private Capital.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story identified Jamey Edwards as executive director of Cloudbreak, he is its CEO.

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With a waitlist six months out and demand growing from hotel-weary travelers, he said it isn't a priority yet.

"We almost don't need to," said Edwards.

That's because the $25,000 to $50,000 custom trailers have been a hit with a loyal fan base, and rising demand during the pandemic has only helped. Orders for compact trailers at the lower price end, including Happier Camper's 75-square-foot camper, are growing as newbie road trippers look for COVID-safe travels.

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