The ultra-wealthy in this country take plenty of heat, and sometimes that criticism even extends to how they give that money away. In general, though, if you're Bill Gates and you're giving away your own money, it's hard for anyone else to claim they should have a say in how you do it.
It's also true that some of those wealthy individuals are criticized for other reasons. For example, I've frequently pointed out that it sometimes seems like Facebook's founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, just doesn't get that people really don't love the idea of being tracked everywhere they go online, just so he can rake in the cash that comes with showing us targeted ads while we're mindlessly scrolling through the News Feed.
This week, however, Zuckerberg has shown he clearly gets it. His foundation, The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and its affiliated CZI Biohub, just announced it will purchase two diagnostic machines capable of running tests for the Coronavirus. Considering that the current outbreak has--as of Wednesday--been labeled a global pandemic, this seems like a pretty good use of resources. The foundation's purchase will quadruple the capacity of testing machines currently available in San Francisco.
Likewise, Bill Gates, who is known for putting his money behind public health causes, is funding a home-test kit that can be used by residents in Seattle and sent out for testing. According to The Seattle Times, the results would be available within two days, and would be shared with local health officials, who would notify individuals who tested positive.
By making testing equipment more readily available, individuals who may have been infected but aren't exhibiting serious enough symptoms to seek medical attention will be able to self-quarantine to prevent the spread of the further virus. The plan supported by Gates might be able to process thousands of tests a day when it's up and running.
Both of these initiatives deserve credit for solving a very real problem that the government itself has, up to this point, been incapable of handling--the testing of large numbers of people in a short timeframe. Compared to countries like South Korea, which reportedly has the capacity to test more than 10,000 people per day, only a few thousand people in this country have been tested at all.
While treatment is certainly an incredibly important aspect of mitigating the overall impact of a pandemic, testing is critical to prevent the spread from otherwise healthy individuals to those at risk of severe complications or death.
You can say what you want about Facebook or Microsoft--or Zuckerberg and Gates--but the fact that they decided to put up the cash to make this happen deserves credit and our attention. This is how we solve hard problems: When really smart people use their resources and their influence to tackle them head on.