Dana-Farber, MD Anderson ban all business travel over COVID-19

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and MD Anderson Cancer Center have canceled all business travel. The travel bans are part of a wave of actions taken by healthcare organizations to limit the harm caused by the novel coronavirus now making inroads into the U.S.

With the World Health Organization putting the crude fatality ratio for cancer patients infected with the coronavirus at 7.6%, compared to 1.4% for people without comorbidities, oncology treatment centers are particularly vulnerable to the worst effects of the virus. That thinking informed MD Anderson’s decision to cancel all business travel, be it domestic or international, through late April. 

“Our cancer patients are uniquely vulnerable to coronavirus. For this reason, we are committing to increased workforce precautions. By limiting our exposure to known and probable risks associated with the spread COVID-19, namely travel-related exposure and large gatherings, we hope to contribute to our nation’s containment of this disease,” MD Anderson President Peter Pisters said in a statement.

MD Anderson disclosed its eight-week travel ban, which could be extended if the emergency is still ongoing at the end of April, on Wednesday. The following day, Dana-Farber unveiled a travel ban that will get underway on Monday. Dana-Farber’s ban will stay in place until further notice.

At Dana-Farber and MD Anderson, the travel bans are part of a broader set of actions. Dana-Farber has suspended all business-related visits from “CDC-defined impacted areas” and is encouraging its staff to consider restricting personal travel. Similarly, MD Anderson wants employees “to practice vigilance and caution during personal time” and hold meetings via tools such as Skype if possible. 

The decision by two of the top U.S. cancer centers to stop business travel means leading people from the oncology field may be unable to attend some upcoming meetings. On Thursday, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network responded by postponing its 2020 annual conference. 

However, at the time of writing the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) still plans to hold its annual meeting in San Diego in the last week in April. The meeting is scheduled for shortly before MD Anderson is due to lift its travel ban, meaning that as it stands physicians from the center will not be attending the event.

In a statement, AACR referred to the implementation of travel restrictions at “several stakeholders, including cancer centers, academic institutions and pharmaceutical companies” which, if unchanged, would stop people from attending its annual event. AACR is talking to “the leadership of key U.S. and international stakeholders to confirm their policies regarding staff travel” to get more information but accepts it may be impossible for the event to go ahead in its current form.

“In the event that circumstances do not improve, we are exploring all available options for the meeting, including virtual presentations or postponing the meeting to a later date,” AACR wrote.