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3 takeaways on coronavirus from a vaccine expert

April 13, 2020, 12:31 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Microsoft debuts a new kind of paid family leave, Gap Inc. makes a big bet on merchandise, and we hear from a vaccine expert on coronavirus. Have a productive Monday. 

– Meeting of the MPW minds. At the end of last week, members of Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women community joined a videoconference for our first virtual event. The topic—and featured guest—were timely; we heard from Dr. Julie Gerberding, EVP and chief patient officer for Merck, where she works on global public policy and population health.

Before Gerberding began her current role, she was president of Merck Vaccines. And before that, she was director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Needless to say, members of the MPW community had a lot of questions for her. Most of the conversation was off the record, but below are three interesting takeaways from Gerberding’s talk.

All eyes are on Asia

With China and other Asian countries a few months ahead in their coronavirus outbreaks, U.S. experts are closely watching the region for a sense of what its its domestic future may hold. “If we see a second wave, that will be an ominous sign,” Gerberding noted. But if the next weeks and months unfold relatively smoothly in Asia, that should inspire some hope.

It’s not just about a vaccine

While a vaccine will be crucial to ending the global outbreak, there are other ways to fight the disease, Gerberding said. “If we could convert this into a mild disease or a disease that has a much lower fatality rate than it currently does, then we would be dealing with something that’s more manageable,” she said. One way that could happen: an effective therapy for treating the virus.

An antibody test won’t solve the economic crisis

Some have been hopeful that an antibody test would allow individuals to determine their past level of exposure and, in some cases, resume their lives—and work—accordingly. But antibody tests aren’t a quick fix, Gerberding said. “Individual by individual, it’s premature to say a positive antibody test means you’re protected, she warned. “We can’t jump to the conclusion that this is the back-to-work ticket.”

Gerberding reminded her video audience—a mix of executives from companies in health care, tech, and more industries—that they all have a role to play during this crisis. “We’re powerful women,” she said, “and we can do a lot.”

Emma Hinchliffe


- Paid pandemic leave. In an extraordinary step, Microsoft will give employees the ability to take 12 weeks of paid parental leave, either a few days a week or in larger chunks, because of coronavirus school closures. The new benefit is called "12-Week Paid Pandemic School and Childcare Closure Leave." CNN

- Spotlight on Sandra. It's a strange time for Sandra Lee. Her ex-partner of 14 years, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is in the spotlight (she tunes into his briefings every day). And the brand of cooking that made her famous—with staples and store-bought products—has more converts than ever. She has a new series, Top Shelf, about items you may have forgotten in the back of your pantry. New York Times

- Retail risks. Gap Inc., led by CEO Sonia Syngal, is trying something new to cope with the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis: the retailer will box up 2020 merchandise to try to sell in 2021. Gap Inc. CFO Katrina O'Connell says that "pack and hold," while an unusual choice, makes more sense than trying to clear all merchandise in the fall. Fortune

- Assault allegation. Tara Reade, a former Senate aide, says that Joe Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993; a spokesperson for Biden denied the allegation. Other women have expressed concerns about Biden's interactions with women, but this is the only public allegation of assault. Reade has filed a criminal complaint. New York Times

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Clare Waight Keller, who gained international fame after designing Meghan Markle's wedding dress, will leave her post as artistic director of Givenchy. 


- Ahead of the curve. How did San Francisco flatten its coronavirus curve? Mayor London Breed took swift, decisive action. When Breed moved to declare a state of emergency before the city had its first confirmed case, she was criticized for moving too fast. "Not anymore!" she says now. The Atlantic

- Difficult deliveries. In Venezuela, pregnant women seeking medical care are being turned away. The collapse of the country's health care system has been most extreme in its maternity wards, where vital sign monitors, ventilators, and sanitation systems have broken down. In Brooklyn, doctors at a community hospital raced to save three pregnant women critically ill with the coronavirus, and their babies. 

- Art activism. Italian comic book artist Milo Manara usually draws fictional women in unrealistic circumstances. But as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged Italy, he turned his attention toward the women fighting the crisis in the real world. See his drawings of nurses, cashiers, janitors, and doctors here: Washington Post


Rihanna donates $2.1 million to domestic violence victims affected by quarantine Vulture

'I'm pregnant and my business just collapsed' The Cut

Making sense of miscarriage during the coronavirus crisis Vogue

When will MLS break the gender barrier and hire a woman as a coach? The Athletic


"I think people will go back to the office, but I think it looks different."

-The Riveter CEO Amy Nelson, in the NYT "Corner Office" column