Second in a two-part series examining the numbers and epidemiologic factors surrounding the virus that many experts believe could lead to the next pandemic. Part 1 explored why the apparently lower number of human H5N1 cases in early 2007 does not mean the pandemic threat is receding.May 17, 2007 (CIDRAP Source Weekly Briefing) – Before this week, it might have been easy—albeit wrong—to draw the conclusion that the pandemic threat was lessening. But when the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 16 confirmed 15 human H5N1 cases and 13 deaths in Indonesia, dating back to January, official WHO data now show that this year’s tally of avian influenza in humans is at least keeping pace with 2005, when media coverage of H5N1 reached its zenith. (See the sidebar, “Keeping tabs on H5N1 media coverage.”)The WHO confirmation may produce a spike in news coverage, which might help correct the misimpression given by greatly diminishing news coverage that H5N1 is a fading risk and put the issue back on the radar screen of top executives. “If it’s not in the media, for the average American it’s out of sight, out of mind,” says Penny Turnbull, senior director of crisis management and business continuity planning at Washington, DC–based Marriott International, Inc.From Jan 1 to May 16 of this year, 43 official human cases of H5N1 were reported, with 27 deaths. This compares with 98 cases and 43 deaths for all of 2005. Even with the newly confirmed Indonesian cases, 2007 numbers still appear to be off 2006’s pace of 115 cases and 79 deaths for the entire year. Although the pandemic threat isn’t fading, it could look that way to those not fully informed.Pandemic preparedness planners, say Turnbull and other experts, need to frame the situation to more accurately reflect the reality that the pandemic threat is, ultimately, not about case numbers.This is a difficult task, given that many in the field may have given the impression that it was about numbers, says Peter Sandman, risk communicator and Weekly Briefing deputy editor. “We need to take some of the blame for the misimpression, because we put too much emphasis on the number of human cases and human deaths,” he says.Pandemic preparedness planners can help correct that misimpression by communicating to senior executives that the real threat to business lies not in numbers but in failing to use this time to fortify their business.Striking a balanceKeeping up the pandemic preparedness momentum relies on identifying “teachable moments” rather than reporting on each new human H5N1 case, Turnbull says. “It’s finding a very judicious balance between providing good, valuable information and getting the timing right,” she says. “You don’t just want to keep on issuing reports and updates when there’s nothing of much value to report on.”For example, she says, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) release of its “Community Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Mitigation” report in February and its recent guidance on masks were good opportunities to present new, concrete information to senior executives. National Emergency Preparedness Month, in September, will provide another chance to drive home the importance of being ready.Strategies that you want the company to adopt don’t necessarily have to be couched in terms of pandemic preparedness; indeed, Turnbull says some strategies may be better received by pandemic-weary executives if presented under the general heading of seasonal flu mitigation or disaster preparedness.”You want to use these opportunities to reinforce the behaviors that you want to see happening during a pandemic,” she says.Another teachable moment might be the Apr 26 announcement that Roche was cutting back on production of the antiviral Tamiflu because governments were not buying as much as predicted, Sandman says. While a senior executive who does not want to invest in a stash of Tamiflu that may expire before a pandemic occurs may view that news as proof that the need to prepare is not as urgent, a planner can use this as an opportunity to argue that now the company could buy a supply without worrying that the purchase might be taking it away from emergency workers.”Of course, you should admit that Roche has found a smaller pandemic preparedness market for Tamiflu than it—and preparedness experts—hoped,” Sandman adds. “But your company isn’t planning to sell Tamiflu; it’s planning to use it. Roche’s sales problems have very little to do with whether the XYZ Corporation needs an antiviral stockpile to keep operating in a pandemic.”Working with numbersBecause people in the pandemic preparedness field have always pointed to the growing number of human H5N1 cases and bird outbreaks as an indicator of the pandemic threat, they’re in a weak position to turn around and say the numbers aren’t important, according to Sandman. “The number of people that caught the disease is absolutely irrelevant,” he says. “The disease that causes a pandemic is one nobody’s caught yet. We should have been saying so all along.”Now, the people who never wanted to spend money on preparedness can use those very numbers to try to prove their point. “I bet the numbers are giving very valuable ammunition to people who want to argue that this issue isn’t worth their company’s time and investment,” Sandman says.Likewise, the strategy of giving the public the impression that a pandemic was imminent (because otherwise no one would prepare) has also backfired. “Nobody says we know it’s imminent, but we certainly have given the impression that it’s imminent,” Sandman says. While that strategy seemed to mobilize the public for about a year, by now many Americans, feeling misled, have shrugged off the threat.Reframing pandemic preparednessRather than backing off from communicating about pandemic issues, reframe them, Sandman says.Focus on the potential destruction. “Good pandemic preparedness warnings are about the potential magnitude of the risk—not the probability of the pandemic,” he says.Use the insurance industry analogy. You can say, Sandman says, “It’s not like hedging is unknown in our business. We spend a lot of money in our business on getting ready for things that may or may not happen. If there is a pandemic and if it’s severe, the impact on our company can be huge.”Emphasize that the world is fragile because of our just-in-time economy. Many people mistakenly believe that the world is much better prepared to handle the effects of a pandemic now than it was in 1918. “We’re more vulnerable to pandemics than we ever were before,” he says.Point out that business continuity isn’t about media popularity. “Companies are supposed to make a business judgment about which issues deserve sustained attention,” Sandman says. “I would tell my management that, now that the media focus is elsewhere, companies are the only force capable of preparing their employees.” Individualizing the planStephen Redd, MD, director of the CDC’s Influenza Coordination Unit, says that the slightly lower numbers of human H5N1 cases in 2007 haven’t produced pandemic fatigue in the government sector. “There’s no evidence that we’re at reduced risk of a pandemic, so we understand that we need to continue all the work that we’ve been doing for the past several years,” he says.To keep up the pandemic preparedness momentum during the past year, Redd and his team conducted a 24-hour tabletop exercise followed by a 48-hour exercise. “Those experiences have helped us realize that there are a lot of challenges and a lot of things we still need to do,” he notes.Redd recommends that businesses conduct these drills as a continuing cycle of activity. “The cycle is to develop a plan, exercise the plan, and then, based on the results of those exercises, revise the plan,” he says.Another process that keeps preparedness planning in the forefront is to charge employees with getting themselves and their families ready for a pandemic. According to Redd, “I think it does help reduce the risk of complacency for people to need to do something for themselves.”
___The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference has decided to cancel fall sports competition due to continuing health and safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor says there are simply too many factors that prohibit the conference from safely delivering a competitive atmosphere. A decision on whether fall sports competition would be feasible in the spring will be determined by the conference presidents at a later date. MAAC student-athletes whose seasons have been canceled will still be permitted to train when they return to campus, and institutions will be responsible for implementing their own training guidelines in accordance with state and local COVID-19 regulations and guidance provided by the NCAA.The Collegiate Commissioners Association is working with the NCAA on a series of waivers related to fall sports eligibility and competition. July 27, 2020 Delaware state officials denied the track’s request to host a limited number of fans Aug. 21-23 in the interest of public health and safety. The track is to host a NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Cup Series on Saturday and Sunday of that weekend.NASCAR has run race weekends without fans with limited exceptions, notably at tracks in Tennessee and Texas.___More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports ___IndyCar is set for another schedule revamp, with races scheduled for Portland International Raceway and a doubleheader weekend at Laguna Seca in California both canceled.The series will now run doubleheaders at Mid-Ohio, in the St. Louis area, and at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The series will run Aug. 8-9 at Mid-Ohio; Aug. 29-30 at World Wide Technology Raceway; and Oct. 2-3 at the IMS road course.IndyCar is still scheduled to run 14 races this season.___ ___Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his wife, Brittany, say they’re donating $5 million toward a partnership with a Louisiana health care provider to build “numerous” health centers in economically struggling communities around the state. Brees said in his announcement on social media that the first center will be built later this year in eastern New Orleans in partnership with Ochsner Health. This marks the second multimillion donation Brees has made to benefit Louisiana since the coronavirus pandemic spread to the United States. In March, he donated $5 million to assist food banks in the state as people began losing jobs because of businesses closures or staff reductions stemming from government restrictions aimed at curbing the virus’ spread.Louisiana, with a population of nearly 4.7 million, has been hard hit by the virus. As of Sunday, state health department figures showed a total of 107,574 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3,651 deaths. Share This StoryFacebookTwitteremailPrintLinkedinRedditThe Latest on the effects of the coronavirus outbreak on sports around the world:___The U.S. Tennis Association has canceled two lower-tier tennis tournaments in Orlando, Florida, saying that the coronavirus pandemic makes it too dangerous to hold the events without a bubble setup. Associated Press The GLVC announced its regular season and championship would move to the spring. Also considering football in the spring are the Great Northwest, Northeast-10, Southern Intercollegiate, Central Intercollegiate, and Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.Six of the other 10 Division II conferences are delaying starts to their seasons. The Rocky Mountain Athletic, Great Midwest, Great Lakes Intercollegiate and Northern Sun still plan to play full seasons in the fall.In Division III, the Midwest Conference became the 23rd league to postpone or cancel its season. The only Division III conferences planning to play all or part of their seasons this fall are the American Rivers, Michigan Intercollegiate, Minnesota Intercollegiate, Upper Midwest and USA South.More than 1,700 NCAA games across three divisions are known to have been canceled or postponed, according to Associated Press research. The breakdown: 114 in the FBS, 317 in the FCS, 445 in Division II and 889 in Division III.Several dozen games have been cut from the 95 football teams in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. All junior college games have been canceled. The USTA says ATP Challenger 150 tourneys that were supposed to start on Aug. 22 and Aug. 29 at its national campus are being scrapped.The USTA said the sort of “proper risk mitigation” that it plans for the U.S. Open — the Grand Slam tournament scheduled to begin in New York on Aug. 31 — “would logistically and financially be difficult to create” for smaller events.The group also cited “the current rates of COVID-19 in Florida.___The Great Lakes Valley Conference is the sixth NCAA Division II league to suspend its football season because of the coronavirus pandemic. The NCAA has reduced the minimum number of contests required of Division I fall sports teams, excluding football, by 50% this season.The decision by the Division I Council coordination committee to grant a blanket waiver for any school that needs it affects men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s soccer, field hockey, men’s water polo and women’s volleyball teams.Some conferences, like the Big Ten and Pac-12, have already announced they will play nothing but conference schedules in their fall sports.The oversight committee also agreed to suspend the criterion requiring teams to have at least a .500 record to be considered for at-large selections into a championship field. A previous decision by the Division I Council allows conferences to determine how their automatic qualifiers are chosen for NCAA championship events up to two weeks prior to selections.___ The Latest: US Tennis cancels 2 low-tier Florida tournaments The National Hockey League reported zero players tested positive for the coronavirus last week.The league says it administered a total of 4,256 tests to more than 800 players from July 18-25. Two players tested positive during the first week of training camps July 13-17.Players and staff from the 24 teams participating in the expanded Stanley Cup playoffs traveled to the hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, on Sunday. They’re now in a quarantined bubble and will be tested daily after every other day testing during camp.___The NASCAR weekend in late August at Dover International Speedway will take place without fans.