Skip to content

Illustration by Security Management

Officials and Executives Mandate Closures to ‘Flatten the Curve’

Government officials and business executives are enacting unprecedented measures to limit public exposure as the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread around the globe. On the morning of Friday, 13 March, the World Health Organization said the pandemic had reached a total of 132,567 confirmed cases in 123 countries; 4,947 people have died so far.

In Italy, which has the most cases outside of China where the pandemic originated, the government issued a mandate to close all retailers except for grocery stores and pharmacies. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also issued an order to limit individuals’ movement in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus and relieve the nation’s overwhelmed healthcare system.

“Italy’s experience has now underscored the need to act decisively—quickly and early—well before case numbers even appear to reach crisis levels,” according to The New York Times. “By that point, it may already be too late to prevent a spike in cases that stretch systems beyond their limits. With Italy having appeared to pass that threshold, its doctors are finding themselves in an extraordinary position largely unseen by developed European nations with public health care systems since the Second World War.”

Health officials elsewhere in Europe and in the United States are looking at the situation in Italy and assessing what they need to do to provide care for current cases and prepare for future caseload spikes because the number of patients who will need care is unknown.

“What we know, and this was reinforced during the Ebola situation, is while it’s great having that [biocontainment unit], the more important aspect of this is staff training,” said William Bornstein, MD, chief medical officer and chief quality and safety officer for Emory Healthcare in an interview with the Association of American Medical Colleges. “How you don and doff protective personal equipment and all of those small details are very challenging. One of the reasons we were successful with Ebola without any of our staff becoming infected was because the only people who came into contact with those patients were those who had special training.”

Caroline Ramsey Hamilton, a risk advisor for Pinkerton who specializes in healthcare preparedness, provided best practices in an ASIS International webinar for security teams to support their healthcare institutions. For instance, ensuring that medical supplies are secure and that human resources and security managers have addressed staffing needs and accommodations for individuals who might have underlying conditions that may make them more vulnerable to the virus.

“If they have diabetes or some kind of underlying condition, can they opt out of working in a healthcare environment for this?” Hamilton says.

North America is also implementing measures to respond to the pandemic and limit the spread of the virus. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood up an Incident Response Group on coronavirus and a Cabinet Committee on the federal response to the coronavirus. Trudeau is currently leading the government while in a self-imposed quarantine after his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, tested positive for coronavirus after returning from London.

Earlier this week, U.S. President Donald Trump announced a 30-day restriction on flights from Europe and measures to ramp up testing for the virus—which have stalled in the United States, limiting health care providers’ ability to test suspected patients.

The United States is opening an emergency hotline for private laboratories and partnerships with companies developing tests to detect the virus within an hour, according to the Times.

U.S. state officials are also exercising their authority to limit public interaction and potential spread of the virus. Ohio said it would close all public schools beginning Monday, 16 March, through 3 April—except for child-care facilities. It also banned gatherings of more than 100 people, effectively canceling all large events in the state.

“We thought long and hard about that, and we understand the sacrifice this is gong to entail, but this is the best medical advice we can get from people who study viruses,” said Governor Mike DeWine.

The Ohio ban on gatherings of more than 100 people—which does not apply to weddings, funerals, religious worship, or forms of transit—is one of the more extreme in the United States. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo instituted a similar ban this week, but only for gatherings of more than 500 people; Washington Governor Jay Inslee issued a ban against gatherings of more than 250 people.

Sports organizations are following state officials lead to limit events where large gatherings of people might occur. The NCAA, NBA, MLB, and NHL all suspended their seasons earlier this week after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday. A second Utah Jazz player also tested positive—Donovan Mitchell—and the league asked the teams that had recently played the Jazz (the Cleveland Cavaliers, the New York Knicks, the Boston Celtics, the Detroit Pistons, and the Toronto Raptors) to self-quarantine to prevent any potential future transmissions.

“As we develop the appropriate course for future NBA games and events, we will keep you informed of any changes as soon as they happen,” wrote NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in a letter to fans. “Tickets already purchased for a postponed game will be honored when the game is rescheduled. If games are not played or played in an empty arena, teams will work with fans on a credit for a future game or a refund.”

The arts and entertainment industry is also feeling the effects of the pandemic. Concert promoter Live Nation announced it was suspending all arena tours, Broadway went dark this week, and museums—including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian museums and zoo in Washington, D.C.—announced temporary closures to limit large gatherings of people.

And film studios are taking measures as well, delaying the release of major films like the latest James Bond and Fast and Furious installments, and ensuring the safety of personnel on film locations around the world. Those measures were brought into focus when Tom and Rita Hanks became sick while on location in Australia to film an Elvis Presley biopic. They tested positive for the coronavirus and have since gone into quarantine, posting updates on their Instagram accounts.

“We are working closely with the appropriate Australian health agencies to identify and contact anyone who may have come in direct contact with the individual,” said Warner Bros, the studio backing the film. “The health and safety of our company members is always our top priority, and we are taking precautions to protect everyone who works on our productions around the world.”

While many employees continue to report to work—especially for essential services—other organizations are flexing their ability to have staff work remotely, following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. Google asked more than 100,000 of its North American employees to work from home until at least 10 April.

“All offices in North America are now on recommended work from home status, if roles allow,” said a Google spokesperson in an email to CNBC. “Our goal is to reduce the density of people in offices, which expert advice suggests may slow down the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the burden on the local community and health resources.”

All of these efforts come together as part of a global effort to “flatten the curve” and give healthcare professionals more time to treat and prevent the spread of the virus.

“A disastrous inundation of hospitals can likely be averted with protective measures we’re now seeing more of—closing schools, cancelling mass gatherings, working from home, self-quarantine, self-isolation, avoiding crowds—to keep the virus from spreading fast,” according to Vox.

More resources and news about the COVID-19 pandemic are available on the ASIS International Disease Outbreak Security Resource Page.