Note to readers: Seven weeks after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the U.S., the spread of the virus that causes the disease has done widespread damage to critical economic sectors in the country. Airlines are cutting capacity, people are working from home, major public events that raise millions of dollars for local communities have been cancelled. The Associated Press is a running tally of the effects of the coronavirus on people, businesses, and the economy. The North State Journal reports the effects felt so far as North Carolina has announced a state of emergency and multiple new cases have arisen this week.
Airlines continue to slash capacity as travelers cancel flights or avoid them all together. American Airlines cut international capacity by 10% for the summer Tuesday and will trim domestic capacity by 7.5% next month as millions second guess vacations or business travel. The airline is suspending flights between Los Angeles and mainland China and Hong Kong for the entire summer. It suspended flights between Philadelphia and Rome immediately Tuesday. That hold will remain in place through the end of April.: Delta Air Lines on Tuesday cut international capacity by 20% to 25% and will reduce domestic capacity by 10% to 15%. It also announced a hiring freeze and is offering employees voluntary leave.
United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines are allowing passengers to rebook tickets through April 30 without paying fees.
Vail Resorts is withdrawing its forecast for the entire year. The company said visits were modestly below expectations last week, but it believes that could grow worse.
The online travel company that owns Kayak and other sites withdrew its guidance for the quarter citing the worsening impact of the virus on travel. Booking Holdings said that travel demand, especially in North America and Europe, has fallen. Because of the “rapidly evolving situation,” the company it’s unable to issue a new forecast. Booking said it would offer an update in May.
Banks and the Fed
The Federal Reserve and other regulatory agencies are encouraging financial institutions to meet the needs of customers affected by coronavirus. They vowed to give them the regulatory leeway to do so. “Prudent efforts that are consistent with safe and sound lending practices should not be subject to examiner criticism,” the Fed said in a prepared statement along with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller General.
Humana is waiving out-of-pocket costs associated with COVID-19 testing for patients who meet CDC guidelines at approved labs. The Louisville, Kentucky, health insurer also said it would increase the availability of telemedicine to cut down on potential exposure for those it insures. Telemedicine costs for all urgent care needs is being waived for the next 90 days. The company says it will allow early prescription refills for the next 30 days so members could stock up for extended periods. Humana is opening up a support hotline for members to call with specific questions about coronavirus, telemedicine options and other questions.
Large and small companies are taking measures to offer work-from-home policies after numerous outbreaks around the country. North Carolina officials reported on Monday that five N.C. residents who attended a conference put on by RTP biotech firm Biogen have tested positive for COVID-19. More than two dozen people around the country who attended the conference Feb. 24-27 in Boston have tested positive for the virus, including an Indiana resident. The Indiana patient also spent time at Biogen’s Research Triangle Park office while experiencing symptoms last week before driving home, Wake County officials said Monday.
On a federal level, Securities and Exchange Commission employees have been encouraged to work remotely for the foreseeable future after a potential incident of the coronavirus was discovered. The U.S. financial industry regulator said it was informed Monday afternoon that a headquarters employee had received medical treatment for respiratory symptoms earlier in the day. The employee, who was not identified, was informed by a doctor that they may have been infected with the coronavirus and was referred for testing. The agency “is encouraging headquarters employees to telework until further guidance,” it said. The SEC is the first major federal agency to employ teleworking in an effort to contain the virus’ spread.
Global stock markets rebounded from record-setting declines after President Donald Trump said he would ask Congress to pass payroll tax relief and other quick measures and other measures to ease the pain of the spreading coronavirus outbreak. Intending to calm the fears of financial markets over the impact of the epidemic, Trump told reporters he is seeking “very substantial relief” to the payroll tax. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose more than 1,100 points, or 4.9%. The gain makes up more than half of the index’s loss on Monday, which was the steepest drop since the financial crisis of 2008.
North Carolina response
Governor Cooper announced a state of emergency for North Carolina on Tuesday. The designation will free federal funds for emergency response and allow expanded travel routes for goods, services and healthcare assets.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) has been offering regular updates through its website and to the media since epidemic concerns have begun to grow over the last six weeks. As of Tuesday, the department listed seven “presumptive positive cases” in North Carolina, and say that state officials are confident in the emergency and reporting systems in place.
“NCDHHS has been coordinating with the CDC and state and local partners to prepare for COVID-19 since the beginning of the outbreak in China,” said Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, State Health Director and Chief Medical Officer for NCDHHS. “We are asking North Carolinians to continue to plan ahead for the possibility of the spread of the infection, while the risk for North Carolina is currently low.”
Governor Cooper has announced a Task Force to develop response plans that address a range of possible scenarios. NCDHHS continues to host regular calls with local health providers and partners, develop and disseminate information and guidance and respond to questions from providers and communities.
“We have been working closely with our Public Health and Office of Emergency Medical Services partners to ensure our preparedness for all scenarios as it relates to COVID-19 infection,” said Director of Emergency Management Mike Sprayberry, who co-chairs the Governor’s Task Force with Dr. Tilson. “We would rather be over prepared to protect the health and well-being of North Carolinians.”
Effect on N.C. businesses
As cases increase, experts say that the hardest hit industries will include high volume service industries such as restaurants and hotels.
Lynn Minges, President & CEO of the N.C. Restaurant & Lodging Association, said that sanitation precautions and policies already in place in the normal course of business can and should help reduce the spread of the virus.
“Restaurants are already heavily regulated by state policies requiring health and sanitation protocols, and therefore practice stringent food safety measures every single day. Lodging businesses are also taking care to prevent the spread of viruses using CDC-approved guidance. Both front of house and back of house employees regularly and thoroughly clean hands, use cleaning products with an alcohol content of at least 60%-95%, and stay home when sick,” Minges said.
Retail businesses across the state are also seeing effects and preparing contingency plans. Andy Ellen, President and General Counsel of the N.C. Retail Merchants Association, said that products like hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes, masks and cleaning supplies are rapidly becoming scarce around the state, and consumers should not necessarily expect quick re-stocking.
“When there is a hurricane or a snow storm, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers are able to reallocate necessary products from other areas of the country to the affected area. In this case, this is a nationwide issue so there is not extra product to divert to North Carolina or any other state.”
In terms of financial survival, Ellen said that many businesses are “working very hard at identifying essential business functions, cross-training employees and most importantly communicating with their employees and customers to avoid any future interruption in serving their customers.”
As the effects from the coronavirus continue to evolve , Ellen said he hopes government officials “encourage people not to panic, provide clear and concise information from trusted health sources, and make sure that businesses are not penalized for things outside of their control.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.