Coronavirus and Meetings
to see Northstar Meetings Group’s comprehensive and continuing coverage of how coronavirus is affecting meetings.
UPDATED April 6, 2020 at 9:15 a.m. EDT
LATEST: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends all Americans wear cloth face coverings in public settings, particularly in areas where social distancing measures are hard to maintain. According to the CDC, face coverings can help slow the spread of the virus and keep people who do not know that they have COVID-19 from transmitting it to others. Instructions from the CDC on how to create homemade cloth masks and properly wear them can be found here.
President Trump extended social distancing guidelines, which ban gathering in groups of 10 or more, through the end of April. Apple Inc, in partnership with the White House Task Force and the CDC, released an app to help Americans screen themselves for coronavirus.
As the coronavirus outbreak spreads, meeting planners across the world are grappling with whether or not to cancel or postpone their event. As many event organizers are looking to an established authority for informed, official guidelines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued interim guidance about mass gatherings or large community events planned in the United States.
According to the CDC, it is absolutely necessary that event organizers are prepared for contingencies with emergency preparedness plans. "Depending on the severity of the outbreak, public health officials may
recommend community actions designed to limit exposure to COVID-19," the CDC has advised.
"Officials may ask you to modify, postpone or cancel large events for
the safety and well-being of your event staff, participants and the
The CDC has provided recommended actions on everything that should be done before, during and after an event, to
prevent the spread of the virus and ensure the safety of attendees. "The details of your emergency operations plan should be based
on the size and duration of your events, demographics of the
participants, complexity of your event operations, and type of on-site
services and activities your event may offer," reads the guidance, which will be updated as more about the virus is learned. The following is extrapolated from the CDC recommendations.
- Meet with the venue's emergency operations coordinator or planning team. Discuss their emergency protocol and develop a contingency plan that addresses various coronavirus scenarios that could impact the meeting.
- Encourage the event staff and all attendees to practice good personal health habits each day. Be sure to share resource materials from reputable sources on symptoms, prevention and more.
- Gather supplies such as soap, hand sanitizers, tissues and disposable face masks that will be distributed on-site. Make sure both attendees and staff members will have access to the supplies.
- Plan for employee absences. Event organizers should adopt flexible attendance and sick-leave policies that encourage staff members who are ill or caring for someone else who is ill to stay home. In addition, alternatives may need to be developed for those who are at high risk for contracting the virus. Staff members should be cross trained to accommodate any changes that may arise.
- Discourage anyone who is sick from attending the meeting and request that people who begin displaying any coronavirus symptoms leave immediately.
- Create a quarantine zone for anyone who may fall ill. Work with the local health department and hospital to create a plan for treating staff members and participants who do not live nearby and may need to be quarantined for some time. The CDC also recommends drafting a plan for how vulnerable populations will be separated and cared for if need be.
- Aim to limit staff contact on-site. Develop a staggered shift schedule to reduce the risk of exposure and allow staff members to telecommute if they are not needed at the venue.
- Establish flexible refund policies for anyone who falls ill, must care for a sick household member or is at high risk of contracting COVID-19 and can no longer attend the event.
- Work with local health officials and develop a plan in case the situation changes and the meeting must be canceled or postponed. Develop specific criteria for postponing or canceling and outline what the refund or re-ticket policy will be. Assess whether the event could be held virtually if necessary.
- Identify automated platforms that can be used to quickly disseminate updates to staff members and attendees via text message, email and more. Take care to consider any potential language, cultural or disability barriers that may affect communication.
- Stay informed and closely follow all coronavirus-related news and updates. Pay particular attention to developments in the local area and monitor any temporary school dismissals that may affect the event staff.
- Share frequent updates with employees, participants, partners and more. Promote preventive resources and address any concerns.
- Maintain a healthy stockpile of prevention supplies such as hand sanitizer, soap and face masks. Frequently touched surfaces and objects should be cleaned on a regular basis with detergent and water prior to disinfection.
- Separate anyone who is sick from the rest of the group. Place them in a quarantine zone and give them clean, disposable face masks. Work with the local hospital and health department to provide appropriate care. Discourage infected individuals from taking public transportation, shared rides and taxis.
- Hold a post-event meeting with the venue’s emergency operations coordinator or planning team to discuss lessons learned. Ask participants, partners and staff to share additional feedback.
- Look for new agencies and partners who can help improve future plans.
- Continue to monitor emergency preparedness resources and training.