"It’s going to take longer than we think to get through this," cautions risk-management expert Bruce McIndoe. Even with three promising vaccines on the horizon, the dramatic rise of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. isn’t expected to wane before March at the earliest, he says. "We're just going to have to deal with it."
The activities people worry about — meetings and travel, specifically — are not the at the heart of the problem, notes McIndoe: "It’s actually the humans and how they interact with other humans."
McIndoe, founder of WorldAware and president of McIndoe Risk Advisory, expects this virus to be a significant global security risk for years. After the vaccines come to market, he says, "it's going to take three and a half to four years, at best, to distribute them globally. Here in the United States, the average citizen is not likely to see the vaccine until early Q3 of 2021."
And the vaccine "is not a silver bullet," McIndoe stresses. Here’s why: If a vaccine has 80 percent efficacy — and everyone on the planet gets vaccinated — 20 percent of people can still be dangerous to others. "The vaccine will help reduce the number of people getting infected and dying," he says, "but it's not going to result in a significant change in transmission; we will continue to need masks and social distancing."
The good news: We have the science-backed power to manage the threat to "an acceptable level of risk" for meetings and travel, as well as social gatherings. Following are seven tips for helping prevent the spread of Covid-19, gleaned from McIndoe’s presentation, "Promoting Safe Travel in a Covid-19 World," at Northstar’s Global Incentive Summit earlier this month. (For more insight, listen to the Eventful podcast episode from that session.)
1. Three musts: Wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands.
We have the tools to deal with this. If they are deployed aggressively and comprehensively, they might be more effective than a vaccine — and that’s according to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, research indicates that wearing a mask reduces your risk of contracting the virus by 77 percent; social distancing reduces it by 85 percent, and cleaning hands and surfaces is about 66 percent effective. When you start doing all of these things together, you substantially reduce the overall risk of contracting and especially transmitting the virus.
2. Don’t be too concerned about flying.
A lot of people have angst about going on an airplane. According to a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the odds of contracting Covid-19 on an airplane and dying as a result are about one in 540,000 if the flight is 85 percent full.
For comparison, the chance of being killed in a plane crash is one in 11 million. Every time you get in a car, your risk of dying is about one in 48,000 in the United States.
3. Avoid crowds at the airport.
Minimize the amount of time you're in the food courts and bars and bathrooms — especially the bathrooms. Of course, on a long trip you've got to go, so get in, do what you need to do, wash your hands and get out. If you eat in the airport, find a quiet gate or area that isn’t occupied, rather than sitting down in the food court with other people.
4. Don’t put too much faith in testing.
The challenge with testing is that once you’re infected, it takes two or three days to get enough viral load in your body to trigger a positive test. That diminishes the value of testing. Some countries are eliminating their 14-day quarantines but still require a two- to three-day buffer. Typically, you'll have to test negative before arriving, quarantine for two or three days after arrival, and take another test. If it's negative, you're good to go.
5. Choose lower-risk destinations.
Two factors are critically important: reliable and timely testing, and rapid contact tracing. Those measures have been missing in the United States, says McIndoe, but New Zealand, China and other countries have really done a great job, resulting in almost full suppression of virus transmission.
When choosing a meeting or travel destination, research how those two activities are being managed. Other important factors: mask mandates, distancing protocols, enhanced indoor air and ventilation filtering systems and strict cleaning protocols.
6. Anticipate human error.
"Right now, people are the weakest link in all of this activity," says McIndoe. Based on his own observations at recent conferences, he says, "95 or 98 percent of the time people are doing the right thing. But as the night wears on and the drinks are flowing and people want to do karaoke, they drop their guard. And it's just that little bit of weakness that suddenly puts people at risk. It’s up to the destination and the event planner and the people who are running the program to create an environment that encourages safe behavior."
7. Feeling off? Stay home.
Individual responsibility starts before you leave home. Are you feeling well enough to travel? It's a very difficult decision for someone who might be feeling not great but not terrible. They might figure it’s just a cold or allergies and push on with the trip. When we look at the data for Covid cases, a lot of times people actually did not feel well but did not get tremendously sick; they were carrying the virus.
As we go into 2021, expect to see a pre-departure testing protocol, requiring a negative test before you leave home or a rapid test at the airport. This will provide an initial assessment of your wellness and gauge whether you are actively infected.