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Amazon, Microsoft chip in to help vulnerable groups hurt by coronavirus

Starbucks and Alaska Airlines also contributing to the philanthropic fund, which helps those without insurance or sick days, and healthcare and gig economy workers.

SEATTLE — Major Seattle businesses including Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks and Alaska Airlines are chipping in to help those hit hardest economically by the new coronavirus.

The companies joined with the city of Seattle, King County and the Seattle Foundation on Monday to announce the creation of a new philanthropic fund. It intends to give out an initial round of "rapid response grants" in the next few weeks.

The money will go to local organizations that help people who don't have health insurance or access to sick days, people with limited English language proficiency, healthcare and gig economy workers, and communities of color.

RELATED: Real-time updates: latest updates on Western Washington coronavirus outbreak 

The Seattle Foundation, which is administering the fund with the United Way of King County, says contributions from the lead partners so far total $2.5 million. It says it is accepting further donations from individuals and organizations.

The Seattle area has been the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., with 18 deaths, most of them among residents of a nursing home in suburban Kirkland. Some schools have closed, major companies have asked employees to work from home, universities are teaching classes remotely.

"COVID-19 represents a battle on two fronts — a public health crisis and a threat to the economic stability of so many in our region," Seattle Foundation President and CEO Tony Mestres said in a news release. "While we are all dealing with the effects of this outbreak, some of our neighbors face disproportionate challenges around time off work, the cost of care, and reliable access to information."

Microsoft President Brad Smith and Amazon general counsel David Zapolsky said they hoped the funds would tighten the region's social safety net.