Coronavirus at Events: Calming Attendees and Minimizing Risk
On January 30, 2020, The World Health Organization declared that the outbreak of a deadly and fast-spreading strain of coronavirus, colloquially known as the Wuhan Coronavirus, constitutes a global health emergency.
One day later, January 31, the U.S. announced a 14-day travel ban on all visitors from China. U.S. citizens returning from Hubei (its capital, Wuhan, is where the outbreak originated) will undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine, and those returning from any other part of China will be screened and monitored. Currently, 195 Americans who were recently evacuated from Wuhan to an air reserve base in California are the first people to undergo a mandatory U.S. quarantine in 50 years. In addition, foreign nationals will be largely denied entry to the U.S. unless they are the immediate family members of U.S. citizens, permanent residents, or flight crew.
Governments worldwide are taking extraordinary measures to contain the Wuhan Coronavirus. At times like this, whenever anyone sneezes in a crowd, people get nervous. Attendees at any event, especially those with international visitors, will need assurances that event planners understand the current situation with the Wuhan Coronavirus and are prepared to manage it.
Here’s what you should know about the Wuhan Coronavirus and ways to reassure your attendees that your event is low risk.
The Wuhan Coronavirus
On December 31, 2019, the first cases of the Wuhan Coronavirus were reported. The virus is believed to have originated at the Huanan Seafood Market, which sells a variety of fish, shellfish, and wild game like porcupine, beaver, and snake. (However, new research is suggesting that the virus was introduced into the market as opposed to it originating there.) The virus likely came from an animal, but it has not been determined which one.
The spread of infection from animals to humans is called zoonotic. It is an uncommon way for disease to spread; however, almost all of the deadly viruses from the past few decades came from a cross-species leap, such as SARS (from civet cats) and MERS (from camels).
By January 7, 2020, the virus was identified as belonging to the coronavirus family. It was officially named 2019-nCoV but is more commonly known as Novel Coronavirus (which simply means a new mutation of a coronavirus) or the Wuhan Coronavirus. It was also discovered that it spreads through airborne droplets, confirming the ability of human to human infection.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, and there are many common variations. Most cause mild illness in humans, such as the common cold.
The early symptoms of the Wuhan Coronavirus are:
Mild breathing difficulties
Tightness in the chest
A dry cough develops after 2-7 days
If the infection worsens, severe symptoms may include:
High fever (100.4 degrees or higher
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)
Ultimately, a severe infection of the Wuhan Coronavirus can be fatal.
In the week or so since it was reported, cases of the Wuhan Coronavirus effectively doubled each day. On January 9, the first fatality attributed to the Wuhan Coronavirus occurred. Also, the first infections outside of the Hubei province were reported. By January 13, the first international case of the disease was reported in Thailand, followed two days later by a case in Japan.
On January 23, the entire city of Wuhan (with a population of over 10 million) was placed under quarantine by the Chinese government. All public transportation was stopped, no buses or trains could enter or leave the city, and all planes were grounded. Similar quarantines to 15 other cities quickly followed, ultimately affecting 50 million people.
As of February 4, the Wuhan Coronavirus has spread to multiple countries, including the U.S. However, no country has been as affected as much as China, where more than 17,000 cases have been confirmed, resulting in over 350 deaths. Otherwise, the country with the second most reported cases is Japan with 20.
The specific data on the virus is changing daily, even hourly. Several news and medical organizations that have created real-time maps to track the spread and impact of the Wuhan Coronavirus, including CNN and Johns Hopkins. Please follow the links for specific information.
How to Help Attendees Feel Safe
For the near future, any event that is near an affected area or has attendees traveling from an affected area will be impacted by this outbreak. Specifically for the U.S., the travel restrictions may cause your attendance to be lower than expected. Also, speakers and entertainers traveling internationally may be delayed or forced to cancel.
Whatever inconveniences the travel restrictions may cause, the upside is that they should help assure your attendees that everyone present is likely free of the Wuhan Coronavirus.
Be sure to communicate with attendees. Let them know that, while you do not believe that the Wuhan Coronavirus will be an issue at your event, you are prepared to tackle any signs of infection immediately.
Be sure to have medical personnel present, and work with your venue to have a “quarantine” area ready. This needs to be a comfortable, clean space where anyone who starts to exhibit symptoms will wait until transportation to a hospital is available. You will need to know the location of a hospital that is best prepared to manage a Wuhan Coronavirus infection – it may not be the closest one. Also, know what government health institutions need to be notified, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. or the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDPC) in the European Union.
You may want to make masks available for attendees who request them. Additionally, you could advise attendees with pre-existing medical conditions to speak with their doctor before traveling, especially if your event has several international visitors or is in a higher-risk area.
In addition to communicating on social media, email, and through the event app, have printed signs posted alerting attendees to the symptoms of the Wuhan Coronavirus and the steps they can take to avoid infection.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC have established guidelines to prevent the spread of any infectious disease, including the Wuhan Coronavirus. These guidelines are:
Thoroughly wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water. If a sink is not available, an alcohol-based hand rub is an acceptable alternative.
Do not touch your face, especially your eyes and mouth, without washing your hands first.
Always cough and sneeze into the inside of your elbow.
Do not shake hands or have close contact with someone who exhibits signs of illness.
Avoid visiting outdoor markets, particularly markets like the Huanan Seafood Market, which are called “wet markets” because animals and fish are butchered (and sometimes slaughtered) while customers wait. Avoid direct contact with farm animals and wild animals, both living and dead.
While there is no 100 percent guaranteed method to avoid becoming ill, the above steps will help to minimize the spread of all infections, including the Wuhan Coronavirus. Similar to how quarantines and travel bans cannot guarantee that an infected person won’t slip past these protections, they will help lessen the spread of disease.
Understandably, attendees may be nervous about the Wuhan Coronavirus. However, if you can reassure them that infection at your event is unlikely and you are prepared for any emergency, your guests will be better able to relax and enjoy your event.