A new strain of coronavirus was reported in late 2019 in Wuhan, China. There has been extensive media coverage of the new outbreak, and health authorities from numerous countries are responding. This article provides some background and relevant information about coronavirus and the 2019 outbreak that you need to know as a business owner.
What is Coronavirus?
Coronavirus is a common virus around the world. There are currently seven known strains of the virus that infect people, four of which typically cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory illness (similar to a common cold). More recent strains, Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) cause more severe illness.
What’s going on with the current outbreak?
The current outbreak is a strain called Covid-19, which started in Wuhan, China. It was referred to as 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) until the WHO gave it an official name on February 11, 2020. Early symptoms include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath that appear two to 14 days after exposure. The severity of illness has varied; some people have experienced mild illness and some have become severely ill and died.
As of March 1, the WHO reports 87,137 confirmed cases and 2,977 deaths globally. Most instances have occurred in China, which saw 79,968 cases and 2,873 deaths. Since late February, global spread of coronavirus has broadened, and more new cases are being reported outside China. As of March 1 there were 7,169 confirmed cases and 104 deaths in 58 countries.
In his media briefing on February 27, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that current evidence suggests there is not widespread community transmission of Covid-19, rather it is spreading among close contacts of people who are sick.
For comparison, the CDC estimates there have been 29-41 million flu-related illnesses and 16,000-41,000 influenza deaths since October 2019 in the U.S.
On January 30, the World Health Organization designated the outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. This means the WHO director general and a committee of experts has determined the virus is a public health risk to other countries due to the international spread of the disease and may require a coordinated international response.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the public health threat posed by Covid-19 is very high, both in the United States and globally, and there is increased concern for certain communities in the U.S. Though community spread of Covid-19 has occurred in some areas, it does not appear to be spreading widely at this time. For the general public the immediate risk of exposure to coronavirus is considered low. Risk of exposure is elevated for people living in areas with ongoing community spread of Covid-19, though it is still considered relatively low. Ongoing community spread is expected, and CDC says at some point, widespread transmission is likely. Those considered at higher risk include healthcare workers caring for patients with Covid-19 and close contacts of infected persons.
According to the European Centers for Disease Control (ECDC), there is a moderate to high risk of infection for people from the EU/EEA and UK, based on the probability of transmission and impact of Covid-19.
How is coronavirus spread?
Coronavirus typically spreads person-to-person via respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or exhales. These droplets land on surfaces, and the disease is spread when a person touches an infected surface and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth.Evidence suggests the virus can live on surfaces for several hours to a few days, depending on factors like the type of surface and temperature. The droplets can also be inhaled, which is why the WHO recommends staying at least three feet (one meter) away from persons who are sick or coughing. This is similar to how influenza and common colds are spread. Current research suggests the virus is not spread through the air.
Some coronavirus strains may be more contagious than others. It appears most cases of Covid-19 are spread between close contacts like family members. According to the WHO, the risk of catching coronavirus from someone who is not showing any symptoms is very low.
What is the current risk of coronavirus?
The WHO notes that 95% of Covid-19 cases are located in China, primarily the Hubei province. According to their Q&A on Coronaviruses, “for people in most other parts of the world, your risk of getting COVID-19 is currently low.” Risk is elevated in areas where a number of people have been diagnosed with Covid-19.
The CDC points out that current trends suggest Covid-19 is continuing to spread, and more cases in the US are expected. If the risk level in your area changes, public health authorities will advise citizens on how to proceed.
Several countries outside China are currently experiencing surges in Covid-19, including Italy and South Korea. Several regions in northern Italy are experiencing a cluster of outbreaks. This has lead officials to implement strict public health measures that include banning travel to and from affected cities or areas, suspending public events, demonstrations, and sporting events, as well as any meetings at public or private space, suspending school and childcare services and closing museums, and suspending or restricting some business activities and transportation services.
South Korea has raised its infectious disease alert to the highest of four levels, enabling the government to implement strict measures if necessary, to contain the outbreak. As of the publishing of this article those measures have not been implemented
The WHO states that while Covid-19 has pandemic potential, that evidence suggests containment is possible. Samples of over 320,000 people in Guangdong, China, were tested for Covid-19 and only .14% showed infection.
How can you prevent coronavirus?
There is currently no vaccine for Covid-19. Both the WHO and CDC recommend taking common precautions to prevent respiratory illness, including:
Regular hand washing with soap (for at least 20 seconds) or alcohol based solution (at least 60% alcohol)
Covering coughing or sneezing with a tissue or elbow (not your hand)
Avoiding touching of eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
Limiting contact with people who are sick, and staying home if you are sick
The CDC also recommends cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects.
Health authorities do not recommend wearing masks at this time, unless you are a healthcare provider, infected with Covid-19, or caring for an infected person.
What should you do if you think you—or someone close to you—was exposed?
People who may have been exposed to Covid-19 and are experiencing coronavirus symptoms—cough, fever, and shortness of breath—are encouraged to seek medical care immediately and avoid contact with others. In 90% of cases, early symptoms include a fever, and in 70% of cases a dry cough. See more recommendations from the CDC.
What should your club do now?
If your club is in a country or region not currently experiencing an outbreak, you should continue with regular cold and flu season precautions, which include encouraging employees and members to wash hands and cover coughs and sneezes. Consider wiping down equipment and surfaces like door knobs more regularly with alcohol-based wipes or solution, and encouraging employees to stay home when sick.
For example, you could post signage reminding members about flu season, hand washing, and wiping down equipment after use.
Some health clubs have increased regular cleaning frequency and communicated reminders to members to wipe down equipment before and after each use. See the CDC Interim Guidelines for Employers and Businesses to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 for more information.
If you are in a country or region with an ongoing outbreak, continue cold and flu season precautions and seek advice from your local, regional, or national health authorities on how to proceed. If there is an outbreak in your area, health authorities will advise local businesses and the public on the proper protocols.
For more information on coronavirus, visit the WHO.