On March 16, 2020, at 9:26 PM, I received an urgent email from my friend
DJ Patil, former White House Chief Data Scientist, Head of Technology
for Devoted Health, a Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center at the Harvard
Kennedy School, and Advisor to Venrock Partners. You don’t get that many
titles after your name unless you’re pretty good at something. For DJ,
that “something” is math and computer science.
DJ was writing to me from the California crisis command center. He
explained that he was working with governors from across the country to
model the potential impact of COVID-19 for scenario planning. He wanted
to help them answer critical questions, like “How many hospital beds
will we need?” and “Can we reduce the spread if we temporarily close
places where people gather?” and “Should we issue a shelter-in-place
order and for how long?” While nobody can predict the future, modeling
the virus with all the factors they did know was their best shot at
helping leaders make informed decisions, which would impact hundreds of
thousands of lives.