Coronavirus is likely to disrupt furniture industry

Business groups and furniture importers expect the spread of a new virus that originated in China to disrupt supply chains. The U.S. government is taking strong steps to contain the danger.

The coronavirus is “a very serious public health threat,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier said Monday. “We are preparing as if this is the next pandemic.”

Messonnier directs the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases within the Centers for Disease Control. She gave a media briefing Monday. Also Monday, Dr. Anita Patel, deputy incident manager for coronavirus response for CDC, delivered a similar message to members of the National Retail Federation.

The Home Furnishings Association is monitoring coronavirus updates on behalf of furniture retailers. The outbreak raises concerns within the furniture industry not only for the public health impact but because the epidemic began in China.

Photo shows Anita Patel
Dr. Anita Patel

It will cause disruptions, said Jameson Dion, vice president of global sourcing for HFA member City Furniture. “This will have far-reaching consequences for every source country because so many of the materials’ supply chains originate in China,” said Dion, who serves on HFA’s Government Relations Action Team.

Travel restrictions, quarantines are in place

In addition, many people in the furniture industry who ordinarily travel to China have postponed those plans indefinitely. Many airlines have canceled flights. CDC recommends that Americans avoid all nonessential travel to China.

Organizers of the China International Furniture Fair postponed the March 18-21 event.  The China International Furniture Machinery & Furniture Raw Materials Fair, scheduled for March 28-31, also will be delayed.

Foreign nationals who have been in China within the past 14 days are barred from entering the United States. U.S. citizens, residents and their immediate family members who have been in Hubei province and other parts of mainland China are allowed to enter the United States but are subject to health monitoring and possible quarantine for up to 14 days.

The virus has spread rapidly throughout the city of Wuhan and Hubei province in China and across that country. As of Monday, however, only 11 cases had been confirmed in the United States – and most of those infected people had traveled from Hubei province. Two cases of person-to-person transmission have been confirmed in this country, and both involved a traveler from China to a person in close contact. The 11 cases are in five states: California, Arizona, Washington, Illinois and Massachusetts.

The virus hasn’t spread from products to people

Importantly – and something furniture retailers can stress to customers – is that there is a low risk that the virus can be transmitted from products or packaging to people, according to Patel. There have been no reported cases of the virus being transmitted from imported goods from China or anywhere else.

The virus should not greatly impact cargo arriving from China, for now. A U.S. Coast Guard advisory issued in January states:

“Non-passenger commercial vessels that have been to China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) or embarked crew members who have been in China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) within the last 14 days, with no sick crew members, will be permitted to enter the U.S. and conduct normal operations, with restrictions. Crew members on these vessels will be required under Captain of the Port authority to remain aboard the vessel except to conduct specific activities directly related to vessel cargo or provisioning operations.”

The extent of human transmission of this novel virus isn’t yet fully understood. Health officials have learned that an infected person can transmit the virus to another person before showing symptoms. Also, Patel said, the test for the virus, while accurate, might give a negative result initially but a positive result if administered again later. At first, only CDC labs were analyzing tests, but the agency now is sharing testing kits with state and local public health departments and private facilities, which will provide faster determination of infection and efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

CDC will publish guidance for businesses

The goal is to detect and contain the virus, Patel said. Much of that effort is focused on a border health strategy of funneling travelers from China to 11 U.S. airports, as of Monday. The State Department is organizing flights home for Americans who have been in Hubei province, and those people will be quarantined and tested at military bases for two weeks before proceeding home.

Photo of Nancy Messonnier
Dr. Nancy Messonnier

“This strategy is not meant to catch every traveler who may be infected,” Messonnier said, calling that impossible. Rather, the hope is to slow the spread of the virus.

For now, however, there is a low risk to the general public, according to Patel. People should take the same precautions they use to guard against influenza. One difference: There is no vaccine yet to prevent infection and no medicine to treat those who are infected.

Patel told participants on the NRF call that CDC plans to publish guidance for businesses this week. Furniture retailers, like other businesses, want to protect their employees and customers. The HFA will continue to monitor information as it comes out and relay it to our members. CDC’s coronavirus information page is here.

[Wall Street Journal quotes HFA members on tariffs.]

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Here’s what your business needs to know about the COVID-19 outbreak.