Top business advocacy group leaders on coronavirus: Don’t overreact

By Alex Gangitano – 3.4.20

Five top business leaders on Wednesday put on a united front to tell Americans not to panic about the coronavirus outbreak.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas Donohue, U.S. Travel Association CEO Roger Dow, Airlines for America CEO Nicholas Calio, National Retail Federation Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel Stephanie Martz, and American Hotel & Lodging Association CEO Chip Rogers held a press conference to discuss their respective industries’ response to the virus.

“Our response has been grounded in fact not fear. What we’re telling our members, and that’s critical, is the same advice we’re following ourselves: be prudent, be prepared and don’t overreact,” Donohue said.

He added, “We’re going to run business as usual with a little higher heartbeat and get it done.”

Thousands of people are calling for the upcoming SXSW conference and festival in Austin to be canceled as companies are pulling out of the event and Facebook recently canceled its annual developers’ conference over concerns.

“They’re not listening to what the facts are. The facts are there are no restrictions on travel,” Dow said in response to conference cancellations. “It’s so important to the American economy that these trade shows and various meetings take place.”

The Federal Reserve cut interest rates on Tuesday to assist the economy through a potential coronavirus slowdown.

“In terms of the Fed, I think the Fed made a judgment that said if we drag our feet on this in the next week and a half hoping it goes away, we’re not going to be ahead of the game, we’re not going to be giving people confidence that this economy is going to prosper,” Donohue said.

He added that he has “great confidence” in the administration and that President Trump named Vice President Pence as the leader in the response effort quickly enough.

“I like the vice president, I’ve known him for a long time,” he said.

Calio was slated to meet with Pence and CEOs from several passenger companies later on Wednesday morning to discuss the coronavirus outbreak.

The associations are taking their own steps to ensure their member companies that business can continue as usual.

Martz with the National Retail Federation said that they hope to get the word out that shopping in the U.S. is safe.

“The more we can reassure people that it’s fine to go to their local department store, their local grocery store,” she said.

Donohue said that the Chamber’s work will go on as usual domestically and the Chamber foundation produced planning documents for companies, which include workplace tips for employees and guidance for employers.

Dow stressed that there are no warnings for traveling in the United States.

“We should continue with their upcoming travel plans,” he said, showing off a boarding pass on his phone for an upcoming family trip to Florida.

Rogers added, “Travel is safe, hotels are clean. There’s no place in the United States right now that is not safe to travel.” He added he took the metro this morning and was in the Atlanta airport recently.

Washington state reported nine deaths from the virus, with more than 108 confirmed cases in the U.S. World Health Organization officials announced Tuesday that about 3.4 percent of reported coronavirus cases globally have resulted in death.