How Can Your Startup or Small Business Survive a Pandemic? Know What to Expect

Life is changing rapidly for everyone. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 infectious outbreak as a pandemic, the first pandemic in modern times caused by the emergence of a new or novel coronavirus.

There is so much information coming at us daily. Yet, founders and small business owners are struggling to decipher what it all means for business operations.

Let’s walk through what we know and what we can reasonably expect, given the best available information from trusted sources. Then we can offer some recommendations to help you adapt your business operations during a pandemic.

First, stay informed

COVID-19 is an infectious respiratory disease caused by a new coronavirus that emerged in China in December 2019. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization, and public health organizations like Johns Hopkins University across the globe are monitoring the spread of this new coronavirus.

It is critical for business owners to stay updated on the rapidly changing conditions and guidance during a pandemic. Click To Tweet

Rely on official sources of information like the ones below:

Also check official announcements from your local government, both for your business location and your residence. Local public health authorities and government officials typically work together to keep residents and businesses safe and informed of the latest guidance.

Check these sources if you have a company in San Antonio, Texas:

Follow social distancing guidance

COVID-19 is contagious and spread by close contact with an infected person. Situation-dependent preliminary estimates show a person can infect about 2.5 people, with some “superspreaders” infecting many more due to extensive social contacts.

According to the CDC, COVID-19 is spread:

  • Between people who are within about 6 feet of each other
  • Via respiratory droplets from an infected person’s coughs or sneezes
  • From touching droplets, then touching your face, or when you breathe in the droplets.

COVID-19 is not airborne. Infected people can spread the virus before they feel and show symptoms.

What if I can’t follow the social distancing guidance?

Avoiding contact with your employees, suppliers, and customers may make it difficult or impossible to continue operating your business. However, not following the guidance will have even more extreme effects.

A report from the Imperial College in London modeled the impact of measures we might take to reduce the rate of how quickly people are infected with COVID-19. This report is  shaping measures being taken to reduce impacts from the possible worst-case scenarios in the U.S. and elsewhere.

If we do nothing and just let the virus run its course, the London team predicts we could see three times as many deaths as we see from cardiovascular disease each year.

That means everyone—business owners and potential customers alike—must follow the public health guidance issued for your jurisdiction to prevent the direst outcomes.

How long must we keep our distance?

At the moment, there are no proven, effective treatments or vaccines available for COVID-19. Estimates show it will take anywhere from 12 to 18 months before a vaccine is thoroughly tested and available for the public. Until then, countries around the world must do what they can to limit the spread of the coronavirus. 

The Imperial College experts modeled the impact of public health measures, such as social distancing, quarantine, closing all schools, and shelter in place, both alone and in combinations.

Modeling available data, the researchers found that depending on the intensity of the interventions, taking measures would result in one of two scenarios.

In the first, less invasive measures could slow down the spread of the infection but would not wholly interrupt its spread. By “flattening the curve,” social distancing helps reduce the demand on the healthcare system while protecting those most at risk of severe disease. Still, it is not enough to prevent the spike in new cases over a three to four-month period during the spring and summer, according to the team’s findings.

In the second scenario, more extreme measures such as shelter in place or full quarantine could interrupt the rapid spread and lower the number of new cases. However, once these interventions are relaxed and people go back to regular routines, they predict infections would flare up again. A later epidemic in the winter months can be expected unless the interventions are kept in place.

This same dynamic happened with the flu in 1918. While the number of springtime cases was high, new infections dropped over the summer, creating a false sense of security. In the later part of 1918, tens of millions of people died.

This “second wave” phenomenon is already appearing in those countries that first dealt with COVID-19 and succeeded in slowing the spread such as Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

The bottom line

The world’s population must develop herd immunity before we can return to normal operating conditions. Once most people are immune to COVID-19, whether through previous infections or vaccination, the disruptions to daily life can be more manageable, akin to a bout of other seasonal viruses we have encountered before.

Herd immunity is many, many months away since it will be at least 12 to 18 months before a safe vaccine is developed (plus, add in the time it takes to vaccinate enough uninfected people).

In contrast, expect over the next couple of weeks more stringent measures from state governors and local governments. They are using modeling scenarios that pinpoint the date by which each state must act or face the consequences of overwhelming available hospital capacity.

The point of no-return for intervention to prevent hospital overload projected for Texas is March 29 to April 3.

Prepare for at least six to 12 months of social distancing, optimistically. Expect it to take one to two years before we can leave all public health measures behind.

Here’s what you can do

We spent the last decade creating services and products that would help transition our online lives to the real world. Over the past week, founders and business owners have been confronting the need to adapt the services we’ve come to rely upon in our daily lives into optimized user experiences online.

What can founders and small business owners do during this pandemic?

  • Get the help you need for your business. There are resources for local small businesses:
    • The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) is helping small businesses and eligible nonprofit organizations, as well as individuals who are self-employed or are independent contractors, with payroll support in its new Paycheck Protection Program. You can apply starting April 3 through any existing Small Business Administration (SBA) lender or through any federally insured depository institution or federally insured credit union participating in the program. Get started on the process by filling out your application form that will be requested from you. 
    • You can apply for help for your business such as a SBA disaster loan for Texas-based companies. The loans are at a 3.75% interest rate, with a first payment due 12 months after you get the funds. The SBA will determine from your expenses how much to disburse to cover your costs for six months.
    • Check the new SAEDF site for the latest list of San Antonio resources for local small businesses.
    • Because there are multiple federal disaster relief programs available, start with the SBA list here.
  • Move as many of your business processes as you can online. If you’re not already moving more of your business operations online, get started. From billing to employee collaboration and more, there are free tools and resources for your startup or small business that can help your bottom line as you make that digital transition.
  • Update or create your business continuity plan. If you don’t already have one, spend the time creating a plan on how to continue your operations during a pandemic. You can start with the federal government website Ready.gov for business continuity planning templates and resources.
  • Adapt your marketing messaging and overall strategy. Read this guest post from Jen McKee of Kee Hart marketing to learn how to tailor your messaging during a pandemic. Also, consult this article from Sendspark’s Bethany Stachenfeld on how to shift your marketing from in-person to online. Focus on maintaining connections to your customers so they’ll stay with you until the pandemic is over.
  • Track developments in changing legislation and regulations that allow for digital innovation. We’ve already seen how some patient privacy regulations called HIPPA are being relaxed to accommodate demands for telemedicine. Innovation in online learning, remote working, e-commerce, supply chain, and government/legal tech are all in demand now and represent opportunities for entrepreneurs.
  • Avoid the temptations of a possible summertime lull. A second spike in disease may occur after social distancing is stopped. Take advantage of any pauses by preparing for more disruptions from a likely winter spike in new cases. Build up your stockpile, create new strategies, and train yourself and your employees on the skills needed to keep your company going.

After the pandemic, what then?

The federal pandemic response plan is one of many emergency plans in place to deal with various catastrophes like an earthquake or a hurricane. However, experiencing the impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic feels more like the aftermath from the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with one notable exception.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a shared global experience, one that will mark the younger generation now missing out on important milestones like graduation ceremonies and weddings. After the coronavirus pandemic is resolved, prepare for a surge in activism unlike any we’ve witnessed in modern history.

To use an example of one exceptional individual, Pat Tillman was an American professional football player who left his sports career to enlist in the U.S. Army in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Now imagine a worldwide cohort of people like Tillman who witnessed the most extreme pandemic in modern history highlight the many fissures in healthcare, economic opportunity, and social inclusion.

In the next five to ten years, I look forward to the tsunami of energized people eager to make a difference. These survivors will launch startups, create nonprofit organizations, run for public office, and become researchers and inventors, for starters.

These are your future customers. Keep their journey in mind as you adapt your businesses over the next many months of this pandemic so your company will continue to be relevant.

 

Iris Gonzalez is the founder and publisher of Startups San Antonio and previously spent 23 years as a research analyst for the Department of Defense. Her experiences include working on the Bio Watch/Bio Shield programs formed after 9/11, as well as on the federal Pandemic Influenza Response Plan first developed at the U.S. Pacific Command in 2005.  She also worked on the Alternate Care Sites Regional Planning Guidance and Public Health Response and Coordination Framework for the City of Houston (2011), the Multi-Jurisdictional Public Health Response and Coordination Framework for Harris County, Texas (2013),  Austin’s critical infrastructure protection plan (2013) and researched disease outbreaks in our food supply.  

Featured image is of the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 pandemic online tracker. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

 

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Iris Gonzalez

Iris Gonzalez is a writer based in San Antonio, Texas, covering innovation in emerging tech, cybersecurity, and bioscience startup companies in San Antonio.

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