Workplaces Begin Coping With Coronavirus

From Seattle to New York to London, companies of all sizes have spent the last week preparing for disruptions from the coronavirus outbreak that started in China. They have put employees through work-from-home drills, built up inventory to weather a possible shutdown and dusted off emergency-response plans.

Now the emergency has begun.

At Amazon’s sprawling headquarters in Seattle, a worker in one of the company’s many office buildings in the South Lake Union neighborhood has tested positive for the virus. In a message to employees on Wednesday night, Amazon said it was recommending that all employees in the Seattle region work from home this month if their jobs can be done remotely.

“We are supporting the affected employee, who remains in quarantine,” said Drew Herdener, an Amazon spokesman.

At the same time, Facebook said on Wednesday that a contractor working in the company’s Seattle offices had tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, making it the second major tech company in the city to be affected by the outbreak.

The tech industry is vital to the economy of Washington State, where a cluster of infections has taken root and 10 people have died, leading companies there to take extra precautions to halt the spread of the virus.

“We’ve notified our employees and are following the advice of public health officials to prioritize everyone’s health and safety,” said Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman.

The Seattle area is Facebook’s largest engineering outpost outside its Bay Area headquarters. It had 5,000 employees in the region as of last September, when it announced plans to expand even further.

Sick workers have also been reported overseas. On Thursday, HSBC, one of the world’s largest financial firms, said that an employee at its global headquarters in London had been diagnosed with the coronavirus. The employee is under medical supervision and has self-isolated. The office, where nearly 10,000 people work, remains open.

“We are deep-cleaning the floor where our colleague worked and shared areas of the building,” the company said in an emailed statement. “Colleagues on that floor, and others who came into contact with him, have been advised to work at home.”

Other companies are escalating their efforts to protect employees. Twitter, Ford Motor and numerous others have banned all nonessential travel. The largest American banks, including Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, have said senior managers must approve any international business trips. Walmart said on Thursday that its employees could travel internationally only for “business-critical trips” and that it was restricting their travel to conferences and trade shows within the United States. And at CNN, which is based in Atlanta and has employees all over the world, the C.E.O. has begun personally vetting all intercontinental travel.

For some smaller businesses, the impact of an outbreak that forces workers to stay home from work could be devastating. Restaurants would have to close. Assembly lines would grind to a halt.

“No one has a playbook for this,” said Dan Levin, who runs a small company outside Chicago that makes furniture and wall paneling.

Mr. Levin is planning to have some of his office employees work from home in the event of an outbreak. But losing the manufacturing staff who work at his plant would be difficult to overcome. “That’s a real concern,” he said. “They can’t do it from home.”

The same goes for employees in dozens of industries across the United States. Robert Luft runs a small company in Cincinnati that installs technology in health care facilities and distribution centers.

Recently, several of his technicians were setting up alert systems for nurses at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn. Concerned that a New York outbreak would put that group in harm’s way, Mr. Luft arranged for them to complete the job faster than originally planned.

An outbreak back in Ohio that prevented his technicians from showing up to work would put his business in a precarious situation.

“If it’s unsafe for people to have them on site, that definitely impacts my business,” Mr. Luft said. “Unfortunately there isn’t any type of contingency plan. Those technicians are there for their labor. If they can’t perform their labor, that takes away their earning potential.”

Michael Grynbaum, Michael Corkery, Geneva Abdul and Iliana Magra contributed to this report.

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