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My start-up business requires that I travel frequently, but the coronavirus is freaking me out

  • Author: Lynne Curry
    | Alaska Workplace
  • Updated: February 10
  • Published February 10

Q: My new start-up business requires that I regularly travel into and through Seattle to make presentations to potential large clients. I know I shouldn’t be worried, that the authorities are taking all necessary precautions, but Seattle has one of the 10 airports accepting passengers from China and is home to a lot of Chinese people.

I keep thinking about the cruise ship where nearly four thousand people got quarantined for two weeks. All it would take is for one passenger in the plane to show symptoms and they might quarantine the whole plane. I can’t afford two weeks of downtime.

I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on about the coronavirus but other than wearing respirators, washing my hands and not traveling, there isn’t much help for travelers.

A: If someone on your plane shows symptoms, you and other passengers may be quarantined. While the probability of this occurring is extremely low, if the thought of plane travel creates high anxiety for you, you may want to explore other methods for connecting with out-of-state prospective clients such as Skype and GoToMeeting.

When you travel, take precautions against getting sick. If you find yourself sitting next to someone who appears ill, alert the flight crew and ask to be moved. If they can’t because of a full flight, don a N95 face mask and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and if water isn’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Use alcohol wipes to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as your tray table, seat back pocket and armrest. If you use the lavatory, wipe both door handles with an alcohol wipe before using them.

Although many think it’s easy to catch colds or other contagious diseases on planes, the World Health Organization reports that “there is very little risk of any communicable disease being transmitted on board” because planes use high-efficiency particulate air filters when recirculating cabin air. Despite this, you might want to turn off the overhead air vent as it attracts droplets, captures them in the airflow and then shoots not-so-clean air at you. Further, as an airplane’s low humidity irritates mucosal membranes in the nose and mouth, leading many passengers to half-unconsciously scratch there, creating tiny tears where viruses can land. You also reduce the odds you’ll catch something by taking a window seat as more potentially sick individuals pass you when you sit on the aisle.

Finally, as we haven’t yet created a vaccine, the novel coronavirus crisis may continue for some time before things get better. You can keep yourself informed by calling the CDC at 1-800-CDC-INFO or via the websites for the WHO and the CDC. You may also want to consult with your physician for more information on how to build up your immune system.

Q: One of our employees wants to organize a regular prayer group. Should we let him?

A: Given the benefits prayer offers, your workplace culture and employees may gain if you allow your employee to organize a prayer group during a break time such as the noon hour and in a quiet area such as a conference room. Further, your employee has the right to express his religious beliefs, as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that employers reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs unless it creates an undue hardship for the employer. Your employee doesn’t, however, have the right to guilt or otherwise coerce other employees into attending his group.