Updated February 26, 2020
Know the facts and don’t panic.
While this is a good opportunity for hotels to review health and safety measures for diseases such as flu, it is important to avoid panic or fear over the new outbreak of the coronavirus. This is certainly not the first time in recent history where infectious diseases have made headline news.
We have all heard the news by now: a new virus originating in Central China is spreading concern in the public, and naturally, hotel guests and employees may have questions about how the Texas hotel industry is affected. THLA has contacted experts, researched the issue, and we have compiled answers to your questions.
What is coronavirus?
The term “coronavirus” refers to a common family of viruses. According to the CDC, most people get infected with a coronavirus at some point in their lives. The recent outbreak of coronavirus was first detected in Central China in December 2019. The World Health Organization (WHO) has given this coronavirus the name, “COVID-2019 coronavirus,” although most in the news media are simply referring to the virus as “coronavirus.”
Where has the coronavirus been detected?
As of February 25, 2020, about 80,000 people worldwide have contracted the COVID-2019 coronavirus. The majority of cases are in China, but there have been reports of the virus occurring around the world. More recently, additional outbreaks are occurring in Korea, Iran, and Europe.
As of February 25, 2020, there have been 19 cases in the U.S. All of these patients are in isolation, and 14 of which were evacuated from the cruise ship in Japan.
Additionally, CDC officials recently warned Americans to prepare for COVID-19 occurring in communities in the United States. Again, it is important not to panic, but rather be prepared and familiar with how the virus spreads, and understand best practices to prevent its occurrence.
How is the COVID-2019 coronavirus spread?
While the COVID-2019 coronavirus is not the same as the flu virus, they share similarities among how the viruses affect people and among how the viruses are spread. According to the CDC, coronaviruses are most commonly spread from an infected person to others through the air by coughing and sneezing; close personal contact such as touching or shaking hands; or touching an object or surface with the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands.
Is the COVID-2019 coronavirus deadly?
As of February 19, 2020, of the 80,000 known cases of coronavirus worldwide, about 2,700 people have died. By comparison, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 4 million people worldwide contract the flu, resulting in about 400,000 deaths. And similar to the flu, people who have died from the COVID-2019 coronavirus were already in poor health when they contracted the virus. The CDC, WHO, and pharmaceutical companies are currently researching the possibility of creating a coronavirus vaccine, but there is no vaccine available yet.
What steps can be taken to prevent getting the coronavirus?
While experts are still studying the specific characteristics of the COVID-2019 coronavirus, it appears to spread much like seasonal flu. The best practice for a hotel is to follow the standard flu prevention measures with your team: Hotels can help reduce the spread of the flu and other diseases by taking these steps:
- Encourage your staff to stay home if they show flu or cold-like symptoms.
- Re-emphasize to your staff to wash their hands often with soap and water, especially after they cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
- Influenza and other diseases are frequently spread person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people. Re-emphasize to your staff to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when they cough or sneeze and to throw the tissue in the trash after they use it.
- Remind staff to avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth before washing their hands.
- Encourage employees to consider getting the seasonal flu vaccine. While the flu vaccine is not effective against the COVID-2019 coronavirus, it is effective against the far more common seasonal flu.
- Put together a plan for your hotel property. The CDC has sample plans available: http://www.flu.gov/planning-preparedness/business/
How has travel been affected by COVID-2019 coronavirus?
Travel to and within China and South Korea has been severely affected by the outbreak of the COVID-2019 coronavirus. The Chinese government has effectively shut down travel to and within the areas of China most severely affected by the virus. Furthermore, U.S. government agencies are recommending U.S. residents avoid travel to China and South Korea at this time.
As of publication, (February 25, 2020) travel outside of China and South Korea has not been restricted. However, we may see a general slowdown in international travel as a result of the virus, especially among visitors from Asia.
Does the COVID-2019 coronavirus affect group contracts at hotels in the U.S.?
As a reminder, because governmental entities are not restricting travel into the U.S., the outbreak of the COVID-2019 coronavirus generally does not constitute a force majeure event under group hotel sales contracts. Typically, force majeure clauses only become effective when it is impossible to hold a meeting due to external factors beyond the control of the parties. Unless a group is coming directly from China or Sourth Korea, the outbreak of COVID-2019 coronavirus does not make it impossible to hold a meeting at a hotel in the United States.
Where can we get more information about the COVID-2019 coronavirus?
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains a situation page dedicated to the COVID-2019 coronavirus. The CDC is updating this page regularly with the latest information on the status of the outbreak and guidance to stay healthy.
For a global perspective, the World Health Organization (WHO) is providing updates on its efforts to work with the Chinese government and other nations on the outbreak.