Last updated: Event industry and COVID-19: An insider’s point of view

Event industry and COVID-19: An insider’s point of view


As Head of Global Events for SAP, I have been immersed in the COVID-19 crisis for over two weeks now and have been asked repeatedly about my point of view on the current situation, so I decided to write it down and share it here.

As you may know, SAP has over 100,000 employees globally. When this started we created a dedicated task force monitoring the pandemic, working with governments, doctors, and risk management teams around the world.

My point of view is formulated based on updates from this task force, advisories from my Events Security team, updates from my staff around the world, conversations with events industry peers, and my own reading.

Here is how I see this:

COVID-19 poses a clear and imminent risk to family, friends, and community. There is no need to panic, however we must take immediate action to protect ourselves and the healthcare system.

My guidance is to eliminate unnecessary exposure to other people, increase social distance (how far you stand from others), and be diligent about washing your hands before leaving public places to enter your car or home.

This guidance isn’t meant to prevent us from contracting the COVID-19 virus, as that may happen despite our best efforts, but rather to delay it and slow the rate of re-transmission so that our medical system doesn’t become overwhelmed. The goal is to reduce the hospitalization rate to a manageable level, referred to in the media as “flattening the curve.”

The simple statistics don’t sound bad: 80.9% of people who get it experience mild, flu-like symptoms. And comparisons (which I made early in this crisis) that point out that the flu kills 650,000 people per year globally, while COVID-19 has only killed 4,700 as of this writing, make my guidance and the closures and cancellations around us feel overblown.

It’s not.

Here are the facts in plain, comparative language:

The number of people infected with COVID-19 doubles every 3 to 6 days, which translates into a 100x increase every 3 weeks.

A person with the flu infects, on average, 1.3 people. A person with COVID-19 outside of China infects, on average, 2 to 3 people. This small difference in transmission rate creates a massive difference in outcome when taken over ‘generations’ of geometric progression.

In plain language, this means that if 1 person infects 2, each of those will infect 2 more, for a total of 7. The last 4 each infect 2 more, and the total doubles to 15. If you play this out over 20 generations for the flu at a transmission rate of 1.3, you wind up with 146 infections. If you play it out with COVID-19 at 2.5, you wind up with 36 million infections.

1-in-10 infected people require hospitalization, most of these people need oxygen.

The death rate for the flu is 0.1% of infections, the death rate for COVID-19 so far is 10x to 20x higher, between 1%- 2%. Current predictions are that COVID-19 will kill 10x people than the flu this season.

That’s 6.5 million people. For perspective, that’s equal to the combined population of Los Angeles and Chicago.

In terms of US response readiness, when China had as many infections as we do at present, they had already put 16 million people on lockdown and were building two new hospitals. Where are we today in terms of infections, is where Italy was 2 – 3 weeks ago and their biggest issue right now is the availability of hospital beds and medical resources like ventilators and oxygen supplies.

The current prediction is that if our infection rate follows what we’re seeing in Europe, we will run out of room in our hospitals by May 8th. In the same scenario, based on current inventory levels, we have a two-week supply of the appropriate surgical masks to keep care providers safe.

I could keep going but I don’t think that’s necessary, so I’ll sum up.

Companies are deciding to cancel in-person events and employee travel.
Other organizations ranging from political parties to sports leagues have canceled their events and gatherings.
Governments have closed schools.
Employers have closed offices.
States and nations have declared emergencies.

These are not panic responses, they are well thought out and appropriate measures to slow the spread of this virus in order to keep our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed and collapsing.

I urge you to consider not only the health consequences for yourself, your family and your friends, but also the ramifications of a healthcare system that doesn’t have the resources to care for all of the patients who need it.

I’ll end by saying that I had a dear friend with whom I worked for nearly a decade die of the flu a little over a year ago. She was healthy, fit and in her mid-forties. The statistics say that she should still be here, but she isn’t. Please stay safe, keep your distance and don’t write all of the precautions off as unnecessary panic – people’s lives depend on it.
(There’s a lot out there to read, but the articles that stood out to me and helped me write this PoV are this one and this one. I also want to share this Wikipedia page for those who want to understand our hospital capacity in comparison to other nations.)

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This post was first published on LinkedIn, and is syndicated here with permission.

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