Making The Case For A Safe In-Person Meeting During Pandemic

By Henry DeVries, Contributor
Events must meet local requirements, at a minimum, but many go further. getty

With Covid-19 cases hitting record highs, many events are being cancelled or postponed. Still, two-thirds of meeting planners intend to hold their next in-person event this year, per latest research. As a CEO, I have had to make some challenging decisions about holding in-person events.

But I have learned meeting owners and event organizers can take effective steps to dramatically minimize the risk of contagion. I sought out advice from an expert. The following tips come from Loren Edelstein, vice president and content director for  Northstar Meetings Group, the largest travel media, information and services company in the world. They have been serving the meetings industry for 60 years.

Here is Edelstein’s advice:

Share the facts. “People are much less likely to contract Covid-19 at a business event than in day-to-day activities, according to new research conducted by global event producer Freeman and Epistemix, a firm that creates software-based simulations to calculate health risks. When the study was fielded in mid-August, 2021, 80% of more than 5,600 respondents were fully vaccinated. Covid-19 infection rates resulting from business events were as much as 95% lower than the U.S. average over the same time frame, and up to eight times lower than the metro area where the event was held.”

Know the local mandates. “Government-mandated requirements regarding vaccination status, testing and mask use vary widely by city, state and country—and change often. Rules in the U.S. are wildly inconsistent: Oahu, Hawaii, for instance, has banned meetings outright. New York City requires a photo ID and proof of at least one vaccine to enter indoor venues, including bars and restaurants. Florida has banned local mask mandates and vaccine requirements. You must do your homework.”

Set requirements for entry. “Events must meet local requirements, at a minimum, but many go further. A cautious approach might require provide proof of vaccination and/or a negative COVID test taken within 48 or 72 hours of the event. Rapid COVID tests and/or temperature checks at the entrance to the event would add a final layer of protection.”

Establish on-site protocols. “In the current COVID climate, all participants—regardless of vaccination status should be wearing face masks, stresses risk-management expert Bruce McIndoe. ‘If you wear an N-95 or KN95 mask that is properly fitted, that’s 95% protection, which is as good or better right now than the vaccines in protecting you from the COVID-19 Delta variant,’ he says.”

Consider going hybrid. “Offering an option to attend remotely will extend your audience reach and lay the groundwork for a contingency plan. A fast-growing number of tech platforms are designed for virtual meetings. Consult ‘A Planner's Guide to Digital and Hybrid Events,’ produced by Northstar and written by John Nawn, cofounder and chief strategist for The Event Strategy Network.”

Bottom line: Proceed with caution. In-person business events are typically held in highly controllable settings, requiring registration to enter private spaces at designated times. For full disclosure, my company has begun to stage in-person events in Chicago, New York, Southern California and Northern California. The hope is events like ours are self-contained entities that have little to no impact on community spread, and vice versa. In New York, for instance, we are complying with the mayor’s directives and requiring proof of vaccination and that face masks be worn.

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