Public/Global Health

Coronavirus fears disrupt daily life

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The steady spread of the coronavirus is disrupting basic aspects of daily life in the U.S. as health officials rush to contain the outbreak.

Schools, businesses and places of worship near hotspots across the country are temporarily closing or scaling back gatherings to prevent the spread of the virus. Public events and private conferences have been canceled, and public health officials are warning against international travel.

Meanwhile, older Americans, who are most vulnerable to the disease, have been warned in some areas to limit their time outside as much as possible.

President Trump and business leaders have sought to calm jittery nerves as the coronavirus poses threats to the economy, the cornerstone of the president’s reelection campaign. But experts say the country must be ready to adapt to disruption amid rising cases and the emergence of the virus in new states.

“If we get a major outbreak of this coronavirus in this country, that would mean perhaps closing schools temporarily, getting people to do more teleworking, canceling events where there is a lot of crowds in confined places,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in an interview this week with NBC News.

“When you have a brand new virus in which no one has had any experience before, that gives the virus kind of an open roadway to spread,” he added.

More than 160 people across almost two dozen states have either tested positive for the coronavirus or are presumed positive by doctors, according to federal and state data. The virus has claimed at least 12 lives in the U.S., with 10 fatal cases in Washington state.

While a substantial portion of patients experience only mild symptoms, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus can be lethal for older patients and those with underlying health issues.

Businesses, school districts and governments are striving to slow its progress in areas experiencing community spread.

In the Seattle area, where the virus has taken the greatest toll in the U.S., officials closed a school district serving 20,000 students for two weeks and have asked residents age 60 and up to stay home as much as possible. Facebook and Amazon have also asked workers at their respective Seattle campuses to work remotely after an employee of each company stationed in the city tested positive. 

Even states without any coronavirus deaths are taking extraordinary precautions.

Two schools in the northern suburbs of New York City closed for Thursday and Friday after students and family members in each constituency were quarantined for potential exposure to the virus. There have been 22 cases confirmed in New York, all within the greater New York City area.

U.S. health officials say the risk of contracting the virus within the country remains low, though it is higher in areas where community spread has begun. Even so, fears of a broader outbreak set off a domino reaction of canceled conferences, conventions and travel plans in areas beyond known hotspots.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund scrapped their annual spring summit in Washington, D.C., and will instead hold the event in a “digital format.” The Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders postponed a special summit in Las Vegas, and Google and Adobe canceled conferences in San Francisco and Las Vegas, respectively.

The coronavirus fears have also led to cancelation of an event where Trump was scheduled to speak: the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society in Orlando, Fla.

Those cancellations are projected to take a serious financial toll.

A poll released Feb. 27 by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) indicated the virus had the potential to cost the industry as much as $46.6 billion a month.

The poll found that 65 percent of GBTA’s 9,000-plus members reported canceling at least “a few” meetings or events and 18 percent reported canceling “many.”

“It is clear that the coronavirus is having a significant – and potentially very costly – effect on our members, their companies and on the overall business travel industry,” Scott Solombrino, the trade group’s chief operating officer and executive director, said in a statement.

“It is fundamentally affecting the way many companies are now doing business. If this turns into a global pandemic, the industry may well lose billions of dollars – an impact that will have negative ramifications for the entire global economy,” he added.

Tags Coronavirus Donald Trump

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