With the Coronavirus gaining momentum around the world, Broadway theatre could be severely impacted if the deadly virus makes it to NYC
New York City is poised to become a hot-bed for the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV or Covid-19) during the Winter of 2020, but Broadway has taken few precautions to protect its people, its audience and its business from the potential contagion. Hollywood may have given us a full quiver of global pandemic virus outbreak movies, but when a deadly virus like the Novel Coronavirus finally hits New York City, will it resemble Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion”, Wolfgang Petersen’s “Outbreak” or even Richard Matheson’s “I am Legend”? Or, will the reality be closer to a milder dose of “Grey's Anatomy” with Meredith Grey providing tea and sympathy with her omnipresent Kleenex?
Is a Broadway Theatre a Worse Risk Than Anywhere Else In NYC?
At this point in time, the Coronavirus just passed SARS and MERS in terms of infection rate in China, so there is some concern in NYC for its general preparedness. The World Health Organization (WHO) has shown that the Coronavirus has a mortality rate of 2%, and when compared with the flu virus at a paltry 0.014% mortality, it is understandable that there is some cause for concern as there is no treatment, cure or vaccine for this new viral threat. In comparison, the 2003 SARS fatality ratio was over 6% which was broken down into less than a 1% chance for people younger than 25, 6% for those aged 25 to 44, 15% for those aged 45 to 64, and more than 50% for people 65 or older. Coronavirus may follow a similar pattern, but it remains early days yet and SARS was significantly less widespread than where this latest virus stands at.
The World Health Organization has officially declared Coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern and despite the protestations by NYC government officials that they are well prepared and unlikely to face the virus, there are general misgivings about their apparent over-confidence that may be founded in damage control as opposed to a real public safety perspective. NYC would argue that they have heard this all before, dating all the way back to the Black Plague, but it is understandable why some city residents might still be concerned. There are many places around New York City where the spread of the virus is possible. Riding the New York Subway and walking on the busy streets of New York City may be risky during an outbreak, but a New York Broadway theatre is the ultimate petri dish for germs and viruses to breed and spread. Broadway audiences may start staying away from theatres if the Coronavirus hits New York City in any meaningful way and Broadway shows have demonstrated many times in the past their lack of disaster recovery or business continuity plans. The NYC Winter is often a quiet time on the Great White Way, but not to be alarmist, this year could be deathly quiet for all the wrong reasons.
Coronavirus Appears To Be The Most Intelligent Virus To Date
Reportedly contracted by humans eating bat soup (which may or may not actually be true) in the Wuhan province in China, this version of the dreaded Coronavirus only has a relatively small number of victims so far, but given time, this new deadly viral strain could bring New York City tourism to its knees and drag Broadway theatre along with it it. The latest 2019-nCoV Coronavirus just passed SARS in terms of infection rate and with the virus now having a potential incubation period of 14 days, which means that many people may not know that they have already been infected, it has become a cross between an international shell game and a bizarre version of Russian Roulette. With the U.S. government now looking to stop all incoming flights from China, the horse may have already bolted out of the barn and all attempts to contain this outbreak may be futile. The Chinese government has never been very accurate or honest about anything within its borders, putting international partnerships and people at great risk.
Broadway Theatres May Offer The Coronavirus An Excellent Contamination Pool
Broadway is full of old, cramped theatres with tiny seats that mean audience members are sitting very close to each other, which is perfect for the spread of this virus. There is also poor ventilation in many of the older theatres that spread germs around the theatre instead of expelling them outside. Broadway theatres also have lots of tourists from foreign countries, increasing the risk of contagion and cross contamination. A few surgical masks have already been seen in Broadway theatres, but the N95 standard masks are being recommended by medical experts, as surgical masks offer poor protection for this virus as it is able to get around (or through) the thin material. Broadway audiences are sat very close together for extended periods of time and when compared to all other forms of live entertainment, this form increases the likelihood of contagion. Older Broadway theatres offer little protection when compared to modern movie theaters, but both may see dwindling audiences looking to avoid the risk of infection. In fact all crowded places may see a huge reduction in attendance.
How Much Broadway Ticket Revenue Could Be Lost
Coronavirus has already significantly damaged China’s economy, but how much damage could it do to Broadway? The damage may not just be from a financial perspective, but also reputational. If people start getting sick at Broadway shows, then Broadway ticket sales would plummet and the industry could find itself in a quandary. Pundits expect the Broadway League to be reactive to the situation rather then make any pro-active plans. Short of making all audience members wear masks and gloves, there is probably little they could do to prevent infection, other than cancelling shows, which is Charlotte St. Martin’s worst nightmare. The cruise ship industry has seen massive cleanups on board various fleets around the world after multiple Norovirus attacks and their industry has seen massive losses from cancelled voyages and subsequent lawsuits. Broadway could experience the same impact if the Coronavirus takes hold in NYC and the $30 Million per week in Broadway ticket revenues could be severely affected. Only time will tell, but if Broadway gets to dodge the bullet this time, it may only be a matter of time before the big one does arrive and the industry will be crying that they had no idea that this could ever happen.