As Coronavirus Hits America’s Billionaire Town, Seattle’s Tech Moguls Are Slow to Act

A senator this week urged Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to crack down the coronavirus-inspired price gouging on Amazon. Andrej Sokolow/picture alliance via Getty Images

The Seattle area in Washington state is long known as a hub for America’s richest tech moguls. The city is home to some of the country’s most valuable companies—think Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks—and their billionaire owners. But in recent weeks, the region has also become America’s coronavirus capital. On Thursday, the number of Covid-19 cases in Washington state jumped to 70 from 39 just a day earlier, including 51 in King County, where Seattle is located. (Nationwide, there are 231 cases at press time.)

The surge in patient cases this week prompted local schools to shut down and companies with large offices in Seattle, including Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook, to encourage their employees to work from home for now. (One Amazon employee tested positive on Tuesday.)

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However, as fear of the rapidly spreading virus mounts and the absurdly high cost of getting tested raises the question of how many undetected patients are actually out there, members of Seattle’s billionaire club are so far largely inactive in responding to the crisis in their own community.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his ex-wife, MacKenzie Bezos, while moving aggressively to establish their presence in philanthropy lately, with Jeff’s $10 billion climate change fund and MacKenzie signing on the Giving Pledge, have yet to say anything about the coronavirus.

In the meantime, a senator from Massachusetts penned a letter to the Amazon CEO this week, urging him to take actions to contain the “coronavirus-inspired price gouging” on Amazon by some third-party sellers of high-demand items like face masks and hand sanitizers.

Other notable billionaires living in the Seattle area, including former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, haven’t announced donations or other charitable efforts, either.

The only exception is Bill Gates. Last month, shortly after President Donald Trump declared a national public health emergency over the coronavirus, the retired Microsoft founder announced that he would commit $100 million through his family foundation to support the prevention and treatment of Covid-19.

As Coronavirus Hits America’s Billionaire Town, Seattle’s Tech Moguls Are Slow to Act