Staying Healthy in the Face of Ebola

Travelers aren’t immune to the fear of Ebola generated by top headlines, so even though the dangers of a serious outbreak in the United States remain extraordinarily low, hotels must be prepared to respond to guests’ and employees’ concerns. And with flu season upon us, they should be ready to take responsible action no matter what the serious health care scenario.

“The health, safety, and security of our guests and team members is paramount,” stated Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AH&LA) in a press release. “In these kinds of rapidly evolving situations, it is imperative that we stay informed, dispel fact from fiction, and follow official guidelines.”

It is clear that putting people in a panic will not pay off. An economic model conducted by World Bank analysts that looked at the potential toll of Ebola over 18 months estimated a worst-case situation of $32.6 billion, according to a New York Times blog. One of the biggest economic variables, especially for the hospitality sector, will be any shift in travelers’ perspectives on safety.

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So far, it appears that the Ebola outbreak is not holding back companies’ road warriors. According to a poll of corporate travel managers released by the Global Business Travel Association Foundation, nearly 80 percent of the managers said international business travel has either not been impacted at all or has not been impacted much during the past month. Likewise, more than 90 percent of managers said that domestic business travel has either not been impacted at all or has not been impacted much during the past month.

“Although Ebola is top of mind across the country, it’s business as usual for most business travelers,” stated GBTA Executive Director and COO Michael W. McCormick. “But that is not to say that companies are not monitoring this outbreak closely. A majority of travel managers said they either are, or plan to provide, their employees with updated information on staying safe while traveling.”

AH&LA points hotel administrators and employees to the Centers for Disease Control as the authoritative voice on Ebola. The CDC’s guidance emphasizes how isolated the cases of Ebola in the United States are and how difficult it is for Ebola to be transmitted. The virus is not spread through air, water, food, or casual contact. It is transmissible by direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person and exposure to objects that have been contaminated with blood or bodily fluids. Symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure to Ebola, but the average is eight to 10 days.

Hotel senior management and human resources can create a policy to train and educate employees to recognize these symptoms and provide definitive procedures for reporting suspected illness:

  • Fever (greater than 38.6°C or 101.5°F)
  • Severe headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal (stomach) pain
  • Unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising)

If someone reports these symptoms in connection with recent travel to Guinea, Liberia, or Sierra Leone—countries in West Africa that are experiencing unprecedented outbreaks—the CDC recommends first calling a trusted clinic or hospital nearby. Telling a doctor or health care provider about the person’s possible exposure to Ebola before they arrive at the emergency room allows for arrangements to be made to prevent transmission to health care staff or other patients.

Some hotels could find it helpful to appoint a pandemic coordinator who could establish ongoing relationships with local health care providers, the local health department, and first-responders in order to implement national recommendations at the community level. These local experts also could give the coordinator input on how to maintain an illness tracking system to routinely monitor:

  • Employee illness trends, especially vomiting or diarrhea
  • Policy enforcement of sending employees to a doctor if they don’t feel well
  • Guest requests for medical assistance/illness complaints
  • Cleanup responses in public areas and guestrooms.