Doing Business in the Era of COVID-19


Instructor: William Levinson
Product ID: 706519

  • Duration: 60 Min
The United States will have to go back to work despite the coronavirus menace, but lessons from 1918 show that failure to exercise common sense precautions could lead to additional illnesses and deaths. The good news is that off the shelf countermeasures are available to allow the safe resumption of business operations and avoid more shutdowns should COVID-19, or a mutated form of it, ever return.
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Why Should You Attend:

Shutdowns to impede the spread of COVID-19 have already cost the U.S. economy trillions of dollars, and your business is probably among those that have suffered as a result. The 1918 flu pandemic underscores the enormous risks of trying to go back to "business as usual" while the disease still exists, and there is also no guarantee that COVID-19 will not mutate into a new disease against which any vaccines now in development will not work.

The good news is however that non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) can be easily implemented in attendees' workplaces or commercial establishments. Engineering controls such as partitions between workstations (and restaurant tables) impede contagion without people even having to think about them. Changes in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) also can reduce contagion.

Administrative controls such as staggered shifts and one-way aisles rely on vigilance and compliance, but they reduce the number of people present at any given time to reduce opportunities for contagion. These NPIs should also, with the aid of the annual flu vaccine, make the 2019-2020 flu season the last flu season in the United States.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as respirators and face masks also reduce a disease's ability to spread, and can serve as an almost impenetrable line of defense should COVID-19 or anything like it ever come back. Improvised masks are partially effective, surgical masks are very effective, and N95 and similar respirators (which should be readily available as production ramps up) are extremely effective.

Telecommuting and distance education are meanwhile the ultimate forms of social distancing; while computer viruses can propagate across Internet connections, COVID-19 cannot. More to the point is that remote working and remote education eliminate the need for brick-and-mortar structures along with their associated capital and maintenance costs along with the time and monetary costs of commuting. These costs can be enormous in large cities, and are shared by all stakeholders in the form of higher prices, lower wages, and lower profits. Attendees will learn why continuation of remote activities even when the menace of COVID-19 has ended can improve bottom line financial performance and give better service to everybody involved.

Areas Covered in the Webinar:

  1. A safe return to work, and the ability to keep businesses open should COVID-19 return in either its current form or a mutated one, will require changes to workplaces and working procedures to ensure that no pandemic can ever cause the same human and economic costs that we have suffered during the past months.
    • The 1918 flu pandemic underscores the risks of letting our guard down.
    • Non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) were however effective in 1918, and also against the 1956-1957 flu epidemic. They have also, with the aid of the annual vaccine, ended the 2019-2020 flu season a good month early.
  2. The Susceptible, Infected, and Recovered (SIR) model illustrates the effect of NPIs on a disease's basic reproduction number R0, the average number of people to whom an infected person will transmit an illness.
    • "Flattening the curve" is achieved by reducing R0.
    • If however R0 is suppressed to less than 1, there is no curve to flatten because the illness begins to decline right out of the starting gate.
    • Vaccination—and employers and health insurers should encourage people to get it—reduces the susceptible fraction of the population which also impedes propagation. This plus the anti-COVID-19 countermeasures is probably why the 2019-2020 flu season was essentially over by mid-April.
  3. Businesses can deploy NPIs to suppress contagion and ensure continuity of operations should COVID-19 return, and possibly in a mutated form against which any of the vaccines currently under development don't work.
    • "Distance (between respiratory tracts) is our friend." OSHA defined medium risk jobs as those that require people to get within 6 feet of one another, but a 1918 experiment shows that coughing can propagate a disease to no less than 10 feet. The contagion does however fall off with distance which means more distance reduces the risk.
    • Engineering controls are physical workplace changes whose effect is to increase distances between respiratory tracts. Partitions between workstations (and restaurant tables) can achieve this without the need to add floor space or, as has been required in some places, restaurants to remove half their tables and thus half their operating capacity.
    • Changes to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, and ultraviolet air purifiers, can reduce opportunities for contagion. ASHRAE offers considerable guidance along these lines.
    • Administrative controls require vigilance and compliance. Staggered shifts and meal breaks reduce the number of people present at any given time, and therefore opportunities for contagion.
  4. Face masks were effective against the 1918 flu pandemic, and we have better personal protective equipment (PPE) today; they did not have N95 respirators in 1918.
    • Experiments were performed as early as 1918 to determine the effectiveness of masks in blocking contagion.
    • 1918 and much more recent experiments all show that a face mask's effectiveness depends on its material of construction and, where relevant, number of layers of the material.
    • Face masks are not as effective at stopping contagion from coughs due to the much higher pressure and velocity as opposed to normal respiration.
    • Face mask materials can be tested with generally accepted laboratory practices (e.g. ASTM) and buyers should look for verifiable test results and ratings.
    • Beware of counterfeit or substandard masks that can put employees and customers at risk; Canada rejected a shipment of purportedly N95-equivalent respirators that did not meet N95 standards.
    • The presentation will provide references for testing results for commercial masks (e.g. surgical masks) and respirators (N95) and also improvised ones.
    5. Telecommuting and distance education eliminate almost completely the capital and maintenance costs of brick and mortar structures, as well as the cost of commuting to and from physical workplaces.
    • These structures add costs, but questionable value, to the activity in question. This results in higher prices, lower salaries and wages, and lower profits.
    • Organizations, including schools and universities, have used these methods perforce during the past few months and have had to make them work.
    • Is there any reason to return to the brick-and-mortar structures even if and when the COVID-19 crisis has ended?

Disclaimer: No part of this presentation constitutes formal engineering or occupational health and safety advice. Attendees are encouraged to use the publicly available OSHA document ( and other authoritative references for this purpose.

Who Will Benefit:

  • All people with responsibility for reopening businesses in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, including small business owners, from all manufacturing and service sectors.
Instructor Profile:
William Levinson

William Levinson
Principal Consultant, Levinson Productivity Systems

William A. Levinson, P.E., is the principal of Levinson Productivity Systems, P.C. He is an ASQ Fellow, Certified Quality Engineer, Quality Auditor, Quality Manager, Reliability Engineer, and Six Sigma Black Belt. He is also the author of several books on quality, productivity, and management.

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