The answer, to quote Douglas Adams, is don’t panic.
The coronavirus represents a serious public health threat, but right now, the risk to Americans is still low. Nevertheless, these types of illnesses could spread to the point that they become a pandemic, which have had impacts on business and the economy in the past.
The business consulting firm JD Supra advises businesses to focus on general best practices for a healthy workplace, such as frequent hand washing, disinfecting frequently touched items, and making sure employees stay home when they’re sick.
“At this point, the best course of action is to monitor information and educate your employees to reduce unfounded fears about travel, flying, and co-workers,” JD Supra states in an article on its website. “Silence breeds suspicion and paranoia.”
Barbara Weltman at the Big Ideas for Small Business blog, takes a more long-term approach. She looks at past pandemics to understand their economic impacts. She notes that the flu pandemic of 1918 hit U.S. businesses hard, but the economic impact lasted a relatively short time.
It’s too early to know if coronavirus will eventually cause widespread contamination, but for businesses that want to plan for the worst, Weltman says businesses should be prepared for revenues to decrease by as much as 50%.
In this age of e-commerce, businesses do not rely on foot traffic for sales as much as they did in 1918, but a pandemic could aggravate what is already a severe shortage of skilled labor.