Why I’m Starting To Worry About Coronavirus, And What I’m Doing About It

Coronovirus is starting to concern me more than it did two weeks ago, and not just because looking at the market I’m starting to break out my old Great Recession jokes (“Why is the financial crisis worse than divorce? You lose half your assets and you’re still married…”). I even had my first coronovirus dream last night, where I was laying over at an LAX airport hotel and realized that my wife and I were headed off on a trip to Beijing and Shanghai.

Of over 81,000 confirmed cases 96% are still in mainland China but it’s spread – the largest spread so far to South Korea, but also Italy, Japan and Iran. Here’s a map of current COVID-19 cases.

The good news is that over 30,000 confirmed cases have recovered. The bad news is that over 2700 have died so far. The most vulnerable are those with pre-existing conditions that make them more vulnerable. I have a daughter who is less than one and a half.

The majority of cases in the U.S. are off the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Infected passengers went into quarantine. Let’s assume that was done effectively. However there’s the Korean Air flight attendant who tested positive, and did an LAX roundtrip a week and a half ago. The odds they were a super spreader is low, but it’s certainly imaginable that they infected passengers. Those passengers went home, some of them came back to the airport and flew again. They may have infected airport employees and flight attendants, who continued to interact with passengers and fly.

Even if that flight attendant didn’t cause much of a spread there will be others. It’s possible that measures to cordon off the U.S. from coronovirus arrivals slows down the spread but that the spread happens inevitably. A flight attendant off of American’s Dallas Fort-Worth – Seoul flight picks it up on their layover, for instance, despite precautions and brings it back to the states without realizing it. Or a Cathay Pacific flight crewmember brings it with them. Maybe they’re sick and staying at a JFK airport hotel with poor plumbing that causes the virus to spread to other rooms, to hotel workers, and so on.

I don’t want to overstate the risk. Instead what i’m thinking about is long tail risk and I’m more incentivized than average to guard against it because of my young daughter.

It means I’m already considering cancelling a Europe trip in the spring (I’ll wait and see how the virus develops). It means I’m more conscious about washing my hands regularly and thoroughly, especially during travels. And it means being prepared to work from home for an extended period of time, ideally without going out for supplies.

  • Asking what would it mean to be self-quarantined for 2-4 weeks?
  • What supplies do I need, from extra water to non-perishable food?
  • What would contingencies look like in the event of loss of basic municipal services like power and potable water?

I’m not locking myself in a cabin in the woods. I’m doing the disaster-preparedness thinking that I should have done already, unrelated to coronovirus.

The closest analogue in my lifetime may have been Y2K preparedness, and that turned out to be a nothingburger. It was sure eerie to be flying on January 1, 2000 on board a nearly empty United Airlines Boeing 777 from Los Angeles to Washington Dulles. The plane didn’t just operate, it operated on time, and everything else worked fine too.

However the thing about disasters is they aren’t exactly predictable in terms of how or when they manifest, and thinking through preparedness can make good sense even if this turns out to be a non-event in the middle of the U.S. where I live.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. S. Korea reports 1% fatality, China 2% and Iran 13%. The fatality rate is almost certainly the same and the numbers reflect the error in counting cases. Even South Korea is likely high as it is possible to have the virus with no symptoms so there are many uncounted cases. Hopefully it is delayed enough for a vaccine to be added to our flu vaccine regiment. I am not changing any of my travel plans this summer…because it won’t matter where you will be by then.

  2. officially the fatality rate in China is 2% but it is more like at least 10% as Chinese government is notorious to cover up. I would just cancel the trip as it is not worthwhile the hassles.

  3. The media hysteria about this is more of a risk than the virus itself. I would avoid Asia at this point as well as part of Italy but the hysteria in the US media is excessive and just causing panic

  4. Despite being immune compromised I am still travelling. It’s no worse than flu and yes there’s a vaccine for that but it’s only 60% effective. I will avoid hot spots like China and now Italy but not travelling in the US is hysteria. There’s more chance of being killed in a car crash on the way to the airport!

  5. @Gary. My family is prone to panics. My sister stocked a months worth of food and water before Y2K and sent has been sending out dire messages about staying at home and not traveling because of the coronavirus. .

    However, I am ignoring the warning and traveling anyway. WTH. I do not want to give up my two first class tickets on Korean Air to Thailand,. My points came from a Chase transfer some time ago. I used the Korean miles to purchase the ticket, when Korean Air changed the frequent flyer program.The JFK-ICN first class cabin with only 50% full. I was the only person on the ICN-BKK First Class. Wine was good, I chose the Korean food so I have no way to judge how good it was by Korean standards. But it tasted good to me.

    Some people in Bangkok are wearing masks. But none of the workers or normal staff are wearing masks. I think people just go on with their lives. They have a saying in Thailand “No Work, No Eat”. Or so I have been told.

    My friends back home in New York, otherwise very steady people, are telling me that I might not be able to come back, because they might quarantine all of Thailand. Let’s hope that it does not get that bad, not because of me (I am only one person), but because such a quarantine would be devastating to the people of Thailand that rely on international trade and tourism.

    However, since you have a daughter, I do believe you have to be very careful. Better safe than sorry. Good luck.

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