Coronavirus – Should the Meetings Industry Be Concerned?

February 03, 2020

Coronavirus – Should the Meetings Industry Be Concerned?

 

For the third time this century, a new strain of coronavirus, a pathogen that causes respiratory illness in birds and mammals, has jumped from infecting animals to humans. The genesis of this novel virus came from the city of Wuhan and is likely spreading through coughing and sneezing causing illness in more than 229,000 people and killing at least 9,300 globally.

In response to the outbreak, China — reflecting on the memory of SARS, the century’s first coronavirus to make the leap to humans, has temporarily banned the sale of wild animals and placed more than 60 million people on lockdown, blocking expressways and canceling all flights and trains out of the region.

“It’s the largest quarantine in history, but it’s unlikely to contain the virus”, writes Howard Markel, a professor of the history of medicine at the University of Michigan.

So the question for the meeting industry is, Should we be concerned? And the answer is NO and YES.

No, because most experts say people in the United States shouldn’t panic. The virus is thought to be less lethal than both SARS and MERS. And the vast majority of confirmed cases remain in mainland China. Although the outbreak is a “very serious public-health threat, the immediate risk to the U.S. public is low at this time,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

For perspective: The flu kills roughly 35,000 Americans every year. This season, it has already sickened an estimated 36 million Americans and killed 22,000, according to C.D.C. estimates.

YES, because there is still quite a bit we don’t know about the coronavirus regarding it’s degree of contagiousness or it’s capacity to kill. In addition, the Chinese government seems to have tried to play down the outbreak, possibly undercounting the number of infections and deaths.  Finally, if we discover it is more infectious and deadly than we currently think, we will probably have to wait until the summer at the earliest to have access to a vaccine.

However, the most compelling reason planners should be concerned about this virus is the perceived threat it poises to meeting attendees. The media has taken a hold of this story like a dog with a bone and the U.S. public has taken notice.

Just imagine a scenario where a planner is hosting a global meeting. A few Asian delegates develop a fever and cough. Word gets out that an infection is spreading around the meeting and its origin is from China! What do you think all of the attendees will be thinking? CORONAVIRUS! Just like that, the entire meeting is in jeopardy.

Considering this, it is prudent for planners to develop a “flu risk management” plan this winter to ensure business continuity at their events. Below is an outline of some simple strategies to ensure your risk management plan is effective

1. Communication Plan – with the goal of:

  • Calming any attendee concerns
    • Chances are you may have an illness that is not coronavirus, like Influenza.
  • Promoting illness prevention
    • Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 second or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
    • Avoid close contact with anyone with cough or fever.
    • Stay home when you are sick.
    • When coughing or sneezing, cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – throw tissue away immediately and wash hands.
    • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces

2. A “Screening Program” for all ill attendees with a respiratory infection or fever including rapid diagnosis of influenza.

  • Most cases of serious febrile or respiratory illnesses will be related to influenza.
  • Any attendees at high risk of coronavirus can be monitored closely and distanced socially/quarantined from others.

3. Access to convenient, cost effective antiviral treatment

  • Prompt antiviral treatment can reduce the duration of illnesss and the  spread of influenza.

4. Quarantine protocols for any suspected flu like cases

  • The most effective way to prevent the spread of the flu is to keep the ill parties away from the group.

The primary issue here is not necessarily the coronavirus, but the attendees’ concern of this flu like illness. Anything we can do to minimize this concern will avoid any disruption of a meeting this winter.

However, shouldn’t the meeting industry be thinking beyond this winter? Novel infectious disease outbreaks are becoming more common – just in the past decade we have had H1N1, Ebola, Zika, and Coronavirus. And the spread of these diseases has become much faster due to global travel. 

What if the next coronavirus or influenza pandemic is more deadly? The death toll could be unimaginable leading to an enormous cost on the meeting industry, the economy, and our society.

And wouldn’t it make sense for the meeting industry to play a part in curbing the spread of a deadly virus? In fact, aren’t global meetings potentially contributing to pandemic threats? These are all questions for the industry to address with the goal of taking a strategic leadership role in creating solutions to this growing issue.

Visit InHouse Physicians at www.inhousephysicians.com to learn more about how you can benefit from our on-site medical support services for meetings.



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