Monty Summit Moves Ahead, Doctor on Standby, As Coronavirus Fears Mount
Rachel Uranga covers the intersection of business, technology and culture. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines.
Jamie Montgomery couldn't sleep for several nights as he weighed whether to move ahead with his annual two-day venture capital-fest in Santa Monica. This week's conference is billed as an all-star lineup of business leaders that includes the likes of bond king Michael Milken.
But, Montgomery — the founder and managing director of Los Angeles-based March Capital Partners — found himself slammed by reports of other major conferences shuttering due to concerns about coronavirus. Facebook yanked its annual F8 developer meeting in May, the Game Developers Conference scheduled in San Francisco for later this month was canceled, and the YPO Edge summit planned for March was dropped.
Ultimately, he gave it a green light.
The annual convention that draws a thousand attendees from venture capitalists to entrepreneurs is on. "There's been a lot of anxiety around this," Montgomery told dot.LA. "We made the right decision for us."
The influential summit will be. held at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica, where 140 private companies will pitch their startups attracts at an event attended by more than 1,000 founders, top-flight investors, entrepreneurs, and executives.
A meeting Montgomery held with a health expert on Saturday — he wouldn't say. who he met with — solidified his decision. Among the factors is a view among some that coronaviruses as a group are considered cold-weather viruses, and that only 5% of the attendees were coming from overseas – where the bulk of outbreaks have been. Montgomery has also been consulting with local health officials.
So far, there are about 90,000 novel coronavirus cases worldwide. More than 100 of them have been reported in the U.S. and there have been nine deaths recorded as of Tuesday. To slow the spread of COVID-19, the Center for Disease Control said schools, events and business may have to be interrupted.
But in Los Angeles, considered the U.S. gateway to Asia, there's been no known outbreak and health officials have said the risk is still low. Big venues such as the city's convention center haven't had any major cancellations.
"We really respect everyone's decision as to whether to attend," Montgomery said. "I am not going to encourage you, whether it's you or your staff. It's a personal decision. You may have family concerns about a loved one or someone that's in a health state."
To offset any potential spread of the virus, conference planners are placing hand sanitizer in every room and the cleaning staff will be wiping down common surfaces with antiseptic wipes hourly. Attendees are encouraged to wash their hands frequently and to refrain from shaking hands. There will also be a physician on hand. Anyone showing symptoms of a cold or flu will be asked to leave the summit and those exhibiting signs of COVID-19, which include a fever and difficulty breathing, will be isolated and tested further at a medical facility.
"What they have proposed makes a lot of sense," said Jeffrey Klausner, an infectious disease expert at UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health.
Klausner added that while social gatherings pose a risk in increasing transmission, there's no evidence that this is the case when attendees practice good hygiene. He said there's no evidence of ongoing transmission in Southern California. That could change; COVID-19 symptoms take up to two weeks to appear.
Unlike airborne influenza, which spreads quickly and can infect individuals multiple times, Klausner said people build an immunity to coronavirus, which is spread through respiratory droplets. All that tends to make outbreaks more localized. When cases do appear, Klausner said, most people will be either asymptomatic or exhibit mild symptoms. Less than 20% of confirmed cases have been severe, and just 2% have been fatal.
"The overall risk to the general U.S. population is still very low," he said.
Peter Pham, co-founder of venture capital firm Science Inc. isn't too worried.
"I'm an optimistic person and I also follow data," Pham said. "As of last (Sunday) night, the risk for younger folks is really, really low," he said.
Pham holds an exclusive dinner at Gjelina in Venice during the conference for some of the biggest names in Los Angeles' venture capital. Every year, you can count on at least one high-profile attendee. This year, it's Honey, who recently notched LA.'s biggest exit, with a $4 billion sale to Paypal. Dinner talk, he expects, will be much more focused on the city's next newsmaker rather than fears of the virus, as attendees focus on connecting with big money investors.
Hopefully, he said, someone will score a big check. In the meantime, "I will remind everyone to wash their hands, we are in a post-handshake world. Let's go with the elbow bumps and fist bumps."
At the conference, Montgomery said he won't be shying away from the topic. "Coronavirus is top of mind," he said. "We have a session on that on day two to talk about its public health and the economic impact this year."
Editor's note: Shortly after this story was published, Kaiser Permanente confirmed that they were treating a new case of coronavirus in Los Angeles County. The patient is in in self-isolation and being treated on an outpatient basis.
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