The CDC’s Latest Pandemic Guidelines for Events

The agency is now recommending that even fully vaccinated people wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas with substantial transmission levels.

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Planning Safe Events
Northstar's downloadable research, Safety First; Planner Musts for In-Person Meetings, considers the complete range of health and safety services relevant to meetings of all sizes and types, and provides comprehensive insights as to the safety measures planners intend to implement. 

Updated July 27, 2021

In response to the highly contagious and fast-spreading delta variant of the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its previous stance and is now recommending that even fully vaccinated people wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission levels. As seen in the CDC's interactive, county-based map of the country, this currently includes large portions of the southern U.S. The CDC's data tracker and map are updated daily.

The agency suggests that fully vaccinated people consider wearing a mask in public indoor settings even if local transmission levels are not substantial, particularly for people who are immunocompromised or at increased risk of severe illness from Covid-19, or if they live with someone who fits that description. The CDC now also recommends that fully vaccinated people who have a known exposure to someone with a suspected or confirmed case of the virus be tested 3-5 days after exposure, and to wear a mask in public indoor settings for 2 weeks or until they receive a negative Covid test result. 

All teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools should be masked while in school, regardless of vaccination status, according to the latest guidance. 

Fully vaccinated people still do not need to wear a mask or socially distance in most outdoor settings in the United States — unless required by federal, state, local or tribal laws, or by a business.

While evidence still supports the fact that only a small percentage of vaccinated people will become infected when exposed to the delta variant, those people can spread the virus to others. Destinations such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas have recently reinstated mask requirements regardless of vaccination status, although in the case of Las Vegas, the requirement currently only applies to employees.

Based on the latest guidance, meeting organizers and venue managers who are assessing safety measures will likely need to consider transmission levels not only in their host destination but also in the areas from which their attendees are traveling.

People who are not fully vaccinated should continue to wear face masks indoors and in some outdoor settings. In addition, masks are required at all times when traveling, regardless of vaccination status. This includes on planes, buses, trains and other public transportation, as well as at transportation hubs such as airports and train stations. Full details on the agency's recommendations for vaccinated and unvaccinated people can be found on the CDC website.

International Travel

The CDC has reported that the delta variant now accounts for 83 percent of U.S. cases of the coronavirus. The organization has been urging travelers not to visit areas where cases are rising precipitously. The CDC and the State Department have issued revised advice alerting travelers to the increased risk of contracting Covid-19 in the United Kingdom, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Fiji and the British Virgin Islands. 

The CDC's guidance on international travel covers five categories that assess the level of Covid-19 risk within a country. Americans are advised to avoid travel to level-four countries, where Covid-19 spread is very high. This includes Brazil and South Africa. Travelers should also avoid areas where the level of spread is unknown, such as Afghanistan.

Only vaccinated travelers are advised to visit level-three areas, including Ireland and Portugal, which have a high-risk of Covid-19. Countries that fall under level two pose a moderate risk, and the CDC says unvaccinated people who are at increased risk for Covid-19 should not travel to these areas. Regions with low risk of Covid-19 are classified under level one, but the agency still recommends getting fully vaccinated before traveling. 

The latest guidance is expected to help restart the meetings industry. Details on what to do before, during and after an event to ensure the highest levels of safety are outlined below. Planners can also consult the CDC's Event Readiness Assessment checklist. 

CDC Guidelines for Events

Meeting organizers preparing for shows scheduled in 2021 and beyond must consider the health and safety of attendees and staff at every step of the planning process. Guidance from the CDC provides a critical roadmap for resuming events in the U.S., with details on how to evaluate the risk levels and key actions that can help prevent the spread of the virus. Cleanliness protocols are also covered.

The CDC guidelines encourage event organizers to follow state and local regulations on gatherings (updates on Covid-19 restrictions in all 50 states can be found here). Meeting planners should continually monitor the outbreak and make adjustments to the event plan as needed. 

"Event planners should work with state and local health officials to implement this guidance, adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community," reads the document. According to the CDC, "this guidance is meant to supplement — not replace — any state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations with which gatherings must comply."

The following is extrapolated from the CDC recommendations. 

Risk Factors to Consider

  • The number of Covid-19 cases within the community: High or increasing levels of local infection could increase the risk of spread among attendees.
  • Potential for exposure during travel: Airports, airplanes, bus stations, buses, train stations, trains and public transport are all places where physical distancing might be challenging and ventilation could be poor.
  • Length of the event: Longer meetings pose greater risk. Being within six feet of someone who has Covid-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more (over a 24-hour period) greatly increases the risk of becoming infected.
  • The setting: Indoor events, especially in places with poor ventilation, pose more risk than outdoor events.
  • Number of people attending: The more people there are at an event, the greater the likelihood for exposure. Planners must also consider crowding, and should implement modified room layouts or block off seats to ensure social distancing.
  • Behavior or attendees: Events where unvaccinated people do not maintain physical distancing and/or do not wear a mask correctly can increase the risk of contagion.

For meetings that are scheduled to go on, the CDC has offered the following recommendations:

Before the Event

  • Educate staff members and attendees as to when they should stay home.
  • 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.
  • Gather supplies such as soap, hand sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol, tissues, disinfectant wipes, no-touch trash cans and face masks that will be distributed on-site. Make sure both attendees and staff members will have access to the supplies. Staff members should be required to wear face masks and attendees should be encouraged to wear them as well, especially those participants who are not vaccinated.
  • Meet with the venue's emergency operations coordinator or planning team. Discuss their emergency protocol and develop a contingency plan that addresses various coronavirus-related scenarios that could affect the meeting.
  • Designate a person or office to be responsible for Covid-19 concerns. Ensure all employees and guests know who this person is and how to contact them.
  • 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.
  • Modify the event layout for social distancing. This includes limiting attendance or reducing seating capacities. Multiple entrances and exits should also be offered and event organizers should consider staggering the use of shared indoor spaces, such as dining halls and lounges.
  • Prioritize outdoor activities where social distancing can be maintained.
  • Offer online options in addition to in-person attendance to help reduce the number of guests on-site.
  • Discourage anyone who is sick from attending the meeting and request that people who begin displaying any Covid-19 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.
  • Work with local health officials and develop a plan in case the situation changes and the meeting must be cancelled or postponed. Develop specific criteria for postponing or cancelling and outline what the refund or re-ticket policy will be. Assess whether the event could be held virtually if necessary.
  • Consider limiting event attendance to guests and staff who live in the local area to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus from areas that have high levels of transmission. 
  • 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. 

During the Event

  • Stay informed and closely follow all coronavirus-related news and updates. Pay particular attention to developments in the local area.
  • Share frequent updates with employees, participants, partners and more. Promote preventive resources and address any concerns. 
  • Stagger and limit attendance times to reduce the number of guests in the venue at one time.
  • Conduct daily temperature screenings and/or health checks of employees and guests.
  • 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. Develop a schedule for increased routine cleaning and disinfection.
  • Post signs in highly visible locations such as the entrances and restrooms that encourage protective measures. Broadcast regular announcements on reducing the spread of Covid-19 on public address systems, and share messages on social media.
  • Develop signs and messaging in alternative formats for those who are blind/have limited vision, or are deaf/hard of hearing. This includes messages in large print, braille and American Sign Language.
  • Limit the number of people who can use a restroom at one time and post signs or markers outside the restroom to prevent crowds from forming. Consider adding barriers between bathroom sinks.
  • Avoid offering any self-serve food or drink options such as buffets and salad bars. Add floor markers to ensure attendees stay six feet apart while waiting in line to order or pick up food.
  • Ensure ventilation systems operate properly and increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening windows and doors when feasible.
  • 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. 

After the Event

  • 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. 

Cleanliness Guidelines

Cleaning and disinfection can help reduce the risk of exposure to Covid-19 and are key to reopening public spaces, according to the CDC. The organization has issued reopening guidelines for how to properly clean public spaces, including what the appropriate disinfectants are and how frequently surfaces should be cleaned. The guidelines can be viewed in full here.