COVID-19 Daily Summary – March 14, 2020

Author(s): Carmi Levy

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Info-Tech Research Group recognizes the impact the global COVID-19 pandemic is already having – and will continue to have – on you, your IT department, your entire organization, and all your stakeholders. You’ve got critical decisions to make, people to lead, and no time to waste. Look to our COVID-19 Daily Summary for guidance on what’s happening, the context around it, how you should position yourself, what you should do next, and what resources you’ll need to get it done.

Today’s theme: Leadership in times of crisis

Feedback from our members makes it abundantly clear: Leadership is one of the most crucial factors in determining how successfully any organization can move through a crisis. Effective leadership focuses your workforce and gives them the resources and inspiration necessary to succeed. It also sends the right message to stakeholders within and beyond the organization. In the context of a chaotic moment in history, strong leadership will differentiate you and improve your competitive position. Consider John F. Kennedy’s perspective during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962:

“No one can foresee precisely what course it will take or what costs or casualties will be incurred. Many months of sacrifice and self-discipline lie ahead – months in which both our patience and our will will be tested, months in which many threats and denunciations will keep us aware of our dangers. But the greatest danger of all would be to do nothing.”

Effective leadership underscores the reality that no one, no matter how skilled, can resolve a crisis alone. Leaders lead a team of talented individuals and they set the tone for them. All eyes are on those who lead. The American Civil War crisis had Abraham Lincoln. World War II had Sir Winston Churchill. John F. Kennedy stayed the course through the Cuban Missile Crisis. Today’s viral crisis is no less sinister, with leaders in Italy and Spain making gut-wrenching decisions to shutter their respective countries, and leaders of airlines like Delta and Lufthansa canceling huge swaths of their flight schedules.

We’re already seeing internationally famous leaders and foundations rise to the occasion. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, has donated $125 million toward COVID-19 treatments. The Wellcome Trust is contributing $50 million to the same cause.

But effective decision making happens at all levels – and it doesn’t have to make headlines. Ask yourself what you’ll be doing in the days and weeks ahead and how you’ll inspire those who look to you.

Because now is not the time to wait: Now is the time to act. Now is not the time to waver. Now is the time to lead.

Virus 101

  • Understanding the virus lifecycle and its core structural components can provide clues to how it infects humans and triggers disease symptoms. The information shared here is highly detailed, but we’re sharing it at its full fidelity to maximize understanding and context.
  • Genomic sequencing identified severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) as a new Betacoronavirus within the Coronoviridae virus family. Coronaviruses have three major structural protein components:
    • Spike protein (S)
    • Membrane glycoprotein (M)
    • Nucleocapsid protein (N)
  • In addition to these structural components, its genetic blueprint is encoded in its single-stranded RNA (ssRNA) genome. Interestingly, coronaviruses have the largest known positive-sense RNA genome between 27 to 33 kb.
  • Coronaviruses bind to host cellular receptors with its spike (S) protein. Upon binding, the viral S protein undergoes conformational change, and this initiates fusion between the viral envelope and host cell membrane. The virus’s nucleocapsid – containing the virus RNA genome – is released into the host cell’s cytoplasm 5.
  • The upshot of all this is that the stage is set for the coronavirus to now replicate and produce many copies of itself.
  • Thus, the initial binding and fusion between the viral envelope and host cell membrane is a critical interaction point that can be targeted. An understanding of the structural biology of the viral S protein and how it interacts with the host cell becomes an important first step in developing therapeutics and vaccines against the pathogen.
  • This understanding of the SARS-CoV-2 structural biology is what teams of scientists from University of Texas at Austin and the National Institutes of Health were after when they elucidated the structure of the SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) protein using cryo-electron microscopy. Two key results from their research, published just yesterday in Science, Vol. 367, Issue 6483, are as follows:
    • Though the SARS-CoV-2 S protein displays a high overall structural homology to SARS-CoV S protein, they could not detect binding of SARS-CoV receptor-binding domain (RBD)-directed monoclonal antibodies (mABs) to SARS-CoV-2 RBD motif. The lack of cross-reactivity suggests antibody and therapeutic design are probably better off using SARS-CoV-2 S proteins moving forward.
    • The new SARS-CoV-2 S protein showed approximately 10- to 20-fold higher affinity for human cell receptor angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) than does SARS-CoV S protein, suggesting a possible explanation for why the SARS-CoV-2 appears to spread more easily from human to human.
  • Further studies will have to be done on the new SARS-CoV-2 to better understand the detailed modes of action and how its functional properties are similar to, as well as different from, the previous SARS-CoV. All this will help in the development of antiviral therapeutics and vaccines.
  • Bottom line: Research released just this week sheds more light on where the virus comes from and how it propagates, which are crucial steps toward the development of workable therapies. See below for additional background on a critically important Canadian-led discovery.

Recent milestones

March 14

  • The World Health Organization says Europe is now the epicentre of the pandemic. WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus encourages countries to use aggressive measures, including social distancing and community mobilization, to save lives and minimize the impact on overburdened health care resources.
  • China confirms the last of its temporary hospitals have been closed as new-transmission rates across Hubei province continue to fall.
  • The US extends its recently enacted European travel ban to Ireland and the UK, effective midnight Monday.
  • Contrary to earlier claims made by US President Donald Trump, Google confirms it will not be building a national-scale website for coronavirus testing. Instead, Alphabet subsidiary Verily announces it is building a triage tool within It plans to launch a pilot of the new platform in California next week.
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook tweets the tech giant will close all stores outside China until March 27. The company is also donating $15 million for global virus recovery efforts. Customers can continue to shop online.
  • Less than a day after declaring a national emergency, Spain’s government was set to declare a 15-day national lockdown under which people would be allowed out only for emergencies, to purchase food, or to go to work. Spain is the second most-impacted European country, behind Italy, which activated its own national lockdown on March 9.

March 13

  • Stock markets rebound following US government announcement of a $50 billion relief package.
  • The US announces it will set up drive-thru testing sites.
  • Delta Air Lines announces massive cuts to its network that will reduce its passenger-carrying capacity by 40%. The cuts are larger than those that followed the September 2001 attacks. The company says it has opened discussions with Congress for financial assistance to weather the crisis.

March 12

  • Canadian research teams from Sunnybrook Hospital, McMaster University, and the University of Toronto isolate and culture the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) from two clinical specimens. This is a crucial milestone in the development of treatments for the virus.

Want more?

  • Visit our COVID-19 Resource Center for everything you’ll need to navigate yourself, your IT department, your organization, and your stakeholders through this uncertain period.
  • If you haven’t already done so, download our Respond Effectively to COVID-19 blueprint to start building – and implementing – your plan. For more information regarding flexible work plans, read our Develop a Balanced Flexible Work Program blueprint.
  • And book a call with an analyst, any time, for expert guidance on how to identify the risks, strengthen your plan, and keep your shop focused and productive throughout this uncertain period.

What’s next

Check back tomorrow for the next edition of Info-Tech’s COVID-19 Daily Summary. Given the criticality of this global event and the impact it is already having on organizations across the economic spectrum, we’ll be releasing a new summary seven days a week for as long as this crisis continues.

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