While the potential impact from the coronavirus, or COVID-19, on the hospitality industry and related travel industries can not be understated, when it comes to the actual facts surrounding the virus it seems much of the associated fears may well be unfounded.
That was the key takeaway from a presentation offered by Barbara Kane, vp, industry relations, Ecolab, during last week’s BITAC® Luxury event in The Bahamas. Plenty of facts about the virus were provided by Kane, who pointed out that while COVID-19 is a new strain, the coronavirus actually dates back to the ‘70s.
A novel coronavirus, which causes fever and respiratory symptoms, is a strain that has not been previously identified in humans. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. The elderly or those with auto immune diseases are most at risk.
Worldwide there have been more than 100,000 documented cases and over 3,400 deaths, the vast majority of which have been in China. By comparison, the flu killed some 18,000 people in the U.S. last year. Kane pointed out that the lack of adequate healthcare in China--including many people who don’t live in close proximity to hospitals or can’t afford treatment--has been a contributing factor to the death toll.
Meanwhile, the death toll in the U.S. remained at 14 as of Friday.
Kane did caution that while most cases are mild at the moment that could change very quickly and more information is needed going forward.
According to Kane, coronavirus is an enveloped virus, which are least resistant to disinfection. This means that disinfectants can be used to effectively kill coronavirus on surfaces. Kane further noted that the disease only lives on hard surfaces for some 4 hours as opposed to the flu virus, which is typically more in the range of 12 hours.
As such, hoteliers should make it a priority to disinfect hard surfaces and high-touch areas, such as railings, doorknobs and handles, restroom surfaces, counters, tabletops. Kane also emphasized the importance of carefully reading the labels on the back of any disinfectants to make sure they are effective against the virus.
Some of the best ways to reduce the risk of getting infected from the virus include washing your hands often; avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth; avoid close contact with people who are sick; and avoid areas where live animals are being sold or raised.
Another point of emphasis from Kane was that contrary to popular belief masks do not help healthy people reduce their risk of getting infected, but rather are designed so that sick people don’t further spread the disease.
There are a number of tips for those in hospitality, such as educating and informing all employees of proper infection control procedures and reinforcing personal hygiene (hand and cough) throughout your organization. Hoteliers should provide hygiene materials such as soap, alcohol-based hand rubs and hand sanitizer stations to guests and employees throughout their properties. In addition, clean and disinfect surfaces and high-touch areas, such as elevator buttons, lobbies, guest rooms, and fitness centers with approved disinfectants. Restaurant operators, meanwhile, should focus on disinfecting menus, waiting areas, tables, and chair backs.
Despite some of the aforementioned facts about the virus, there is plenty of concern among hoteliers primarily related to fears among the general public and the potential impact that can have.
Munir Walji, owner, Camden Hotel Group--who was on hand at BITAC® Luxury for the Ecolab presentation--acknowledged as much. “We are concerned about the economic impact on the travel industry, particularly the lodging industry. If Americans panic and stop going out, if schools shut down and people self-quarantine and stop traveling, the impact on the economy would be huge,” he said.