Courtesy of OnInnovation

The coronavirus disease Covid-19 has taken the world by storm.

At this point, it’s still difficult to predict the full effects of the novel coronavirus. Will efforts to contain the disease and cause its regression succeed, or will Covid-19 turn into a full-blown, worldwide pandemic? 

Both Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates recently weighed in with their thoughts, and they’re almost polar opposite reactions.

Recently, Musk tweeted:

“The coronavirus panic is dumb”

Now, contrast that response with that of Gates, who recently posted an article on his blog entitled, “How to Respond to COVID-19.”

“In the past week, COVID-19 has started to behave a lot like the once-in-a-century pathogen we’ve been worried about,” writes Gates.

“I hope it’s not that bad, but we should assume that it will be until we know otherwise.”

You can really see how stark the contrast is of these two responses when you place them side by side:

Musk: “The coronavirus panic is dumb”

Gates: “I hope it’s not that bad, but we should assume that it will be until we know otherwise.”

Musk and Gates both possess brilliant minds. But while one of these responses is potentially dangerous, the other promotes a rational, “safety-first” mentality–and could possibly lead to saving millions of lives.

What’s emotional intelligence got to do with it?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions–both in yourself and in others. This ability is important to develop in everyday life, but it can be lifesaving in the face of a panic-inducing situation like the coronavirus, because it allows you to keep emotions under control so you can make balanced, reasonable decisions.

In this case, Musk’s and Gates’s responses are important because they have colossal platforms, and each can influence the way millions of people view and respond to Covid-19.

Taken literally, of course, Musk’s take on panic is correct. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have made it clear that “current circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic,” experts also advise that one of the best things the public can do is to try and remain calm.

The problem with Musk’s tweet is that its casual tone detracts from the seriousness of the situation. It also undermines the work of countless medical and scientific professionals.

And while Musk attempted to explain his reasoning through a follow-up tweet, the fact is very few people saw that explanation–as opposed to the almost two million reactions (1.6 million likes and over 334,000 retweets) the original five-word tweet has received to date.

Gates, on the other hand, provided a much more detailed and nuanced explanation for his reasoning. He spoke to the dangers presented by Covid-19, and why he believes the current situation is an “excellent case in point” of how the world needs to solve an immediate problem while also improving the way it responds to outbreaks in general.

This type of response not only shows the ability to balance emotions and rational thought, it also inspires others to do the same. 

But while Gates’s words are important, it’s his actions that speak the loudest.

How Gates is fighting the coronavirus

Last month, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation committed up to $100 million to the global effort to respond to Covid-19, and just last week the foundation announced it would commit an additional $5 million to assist public health agencies in the greater Seattle region to battle the coronavirus.

One project funded by Gates’s foundation is especially noteworthy: providing at-home test kits for those who believe they are suffering from the virus.

According to The Seattle Times, people who fear they may be infected will be able to use a nose swab to collect a sample, which they can then send in for analysis. Results should be available in one to two days and will be shared with local health officials, who will then notify patients who have tested positive.

Additionally, those who are infected will be able to provide information via online forms about their travel and contact with others. This will “[make] it easier for health officials to locate others who may need to be tested or quarantined, as well as to track the virus’ spread and identify possible hot spots,” says the Times.

Scott Dowell, leader of the coronavirus response at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, says the eventual goal is to be able to process thousands of tests a day.

“Although there’s a lot to be worked out, this has enormous potential to turn the tide of the epidemic,” said Dowell.

This could be a game changer–because one of the reasons it’s so difficult to predict the eventual effects of the coronavirus is the lack of testing. For example, in the U.S., the actual number of cases is likely much higher then that of confirmed cases. And without knowing how extensively Covid-19 has already infiltrated the U.S., the less motivated people are to take appropriate measures in response.

For now, employers are struggling to determine a strategy for dealing with the potential effects of the coronavirus. For example, if an employee gets sick, should employers encourage them to stay home, even after they’re feeling better, to avoid risking others? If working from home is not an option, what then? There’s just so much uncertainty involved. (For employers seeking helpful guidance on their sick day policy, check out this excellent piece from fellow Inc. columnist Suzanne Lucas.)

But if a person can get a confirmed diagnosis within two days, without even leaving home, employers can have more confidence when developing protective measures and putting them into practice. In addition, allowing patients to test at home reduces the need for visits to a hospital or clinic, lowering the chance of infecting others and potentially helping to prevent the epidemic from spiraling out of control.

The lesson for business owners

The question in the end is: Is it really worth it to invest this type of money in a potential problem? 

In addressing what he believes is the new reality, Gates sums it up well:

Obviously, billions of dollars for anti-pandemic efforts is a lot of money. But that’s the scale of investment required to solve the problem. And given the economic pain that an epidemic can impose–just look at the way COVID-19 is disrupting supply chains and stock markets, not to mention people’s lives–it will be a bargain.

In other words, when it comes to major risks, it pays to be prepared.

So, the next time you’re faced with a problem that others are getting emotional about, resist the urge to downplay their feelings. Instead, use some emotional intelligence: work on understanding and relating to those feelings.

Doing so will help you to see the bigger picture–and may even allow you to become part of the solution.

Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

A version of this article originally appeared on