Being part of an industry that thrives on face-to-face interactions and global travel makes the Wuhan coronavirus a concerning issue for event professionals. And while it has been declared a global health emergency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Americans have no reason to panic—yet. The “novel” strain of the virus was first identified in December in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, and has since spread to 20 countries, but the immediate health risk to the general American public is not considered high at this time, the CDC says.
That’s not to say there isn’t some cause for concern. The death toll from the respiratory illness reached over 170 this week, and cases of the coronavirus reported in mainland China jumped from around 2,800 to 4,500 over the weekend, reinforcing the country’s plans to build two hospitals in a matter of days to combat the virus. Officials have also halted the trade of wild animals, after the outbreak was linked to a seafood market.
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On Jan. 27, the CDC issued a Warning Level 3 recommendation to avoid all non-essential travel to China. As for incoming travelers, the organization is monitoring for virus symptoms in quarantine stations at 20 U.S. airports that receive large volumes of flights from China. Wuhan coronavirus symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath, with the CDC reporting that symptoms may not appear for up to two weeks after exposure. At present, there is no vaccine or antiviral treatment for the illness.
As the conference calendar is heating up, we talked to the experts to help put this news event in perspective. Following are insights from the executives at CrowdRX, a physician-led organization that delivers medical services at events.
The Flu Poses a Greater Health Threat
While the media has been sounding the alarms on the Wuhan coronavirus based on its status as a new illness, the prevalence of the flu makes it a far greater health threat.
“Last year was the worst flu season we’ve had in the past 40 years,” says Connor Fitzpatrick, executive director at CrowdRX. “Eighty thousand people in the U.S. died of the flu last year. And in the U.S. alone, 15 million people caught the flu in the last four months… We need to keep the hysteria down—the flu is by far a bigger threat than the Wuhan coronavirus.”
Andrew Bazos, MD, managing director at CrowdRX, agrees. “There are flus that we know very well that have done a lot more [damage] in a day or two than this virus has done in the two or three weeks it’s been discussed,” he says.
Prevention is Straightforward
Measures taken to prevent catching the Wuhan coronavirus are essentially the same as those taken to address the flu. CrowdRX’s top tip? Wash your hands. A lot. We’re talking scrubbing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds several times a day. Other best practices include avoiding all unnecessary contact with others (we know, this one hurts) avoiding animal markets and seeking immediate medical care if you feel any symptoms coming on.
“If you feel sick, you should seek medical care right away. Don’t travel while sick,” says Fitzpatrick. “And we always have signs at our venues that [say] ‘cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.’ But I think it’s important, if you have a fever, you have cough, you have a sore throat, and most importantly, any difficulty breathing, to seek help right away.”
Technology Can Help Prevent Infection at Event Venues
Some of the tools used to routinely disinfect event venues are particularly useful during a virus outbreak. If you don’t have access to such tools, now’s the time to do your research.
“We as a company offer disinfecting services, too,” says Fitzpatrick. “We go into arenas and stadiums and theaters, routinely but especially during flu season, and offer disinfecting services using an electrostatic disinfecting machine. It’s a custom product that Clorox has developed that covers 360 degrees of the entire place. You’re just walking around spraying things and a little particulate is charged with electrostatic energy—it’s actually going to stick to the surface—so we can disinfect an entire large theater in under an hour.”
If the Wuhan coronavirus infection rate intensifies, there are also cameras that can be implemented to detect attendees’ body temperatures at events, “but we’re not there yet,” Fitzpatrick says.
It’s Not All Doom and Gloom
Being prepared for a virus outbreak isn’t exactly a good time, but there’s no need to go shutting down U.S. events at this early stage.
“Right now, in this country, there are no strict recommendations or ‘doom and gloom’ recommendations from any of our national governing bodies,” says Bazos. “The World Health Organization and CDC do not see this as a substantial public health threat, so I don’t think we’d need to do anything other than be cautious and observe… I think that event cancellation would come from outside the events [world] for all public gatherings. We would fall into line with whatever the municipality recommendations were for that region of the country. I don’t see any reason to jump out ahead of any official recommendations.”
For more information on the Wuhan coronavirus, visit: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.
Photo courtesy: iStock/Robert Wei
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