Coronavirus and Meetings
to see Northstar Meetings Group’s comprehensive and continuing coverage of how coronavirus is affecting meetings.
As travel restrictions ease and hotels begin reopening, event professionals are looking for guidance on when and how face-to-face events can resume safely. In late May, the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre hosted the city's first trade show since COVID-19 struck. Recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide a critical roadmap for resuming events in the U.S., while ensuring the health and safety of attendees and staff.
The CDC guidelines outline what should be done before, during and after an event, to prevent the spread of the virus and ensure the safety of attendees. Cleanliness guidelines and considerations for cancelling or postponing a meeting are also covered. "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 document, which will be updated as more about the virus is learned.
According to the CDC, event organizers must be 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 community." The following is extrapolated from the CDC recommendations.
Considerations for Cancelling or Postponing
- How many people are expected to attend? Gatherings with more than 250 people have a higher risk of coronavirus transmission.
- How many of the attendees are more vulnerable to COVID19? Older adults and people with pre-existing conditions are considered to be at higher risk.
- How close will the attendees be? Person-to-person spread is most likely to occur within close contact of six feet or less.
- Are there any ways to reduce the number of attendees? Setting up socially distanced seating can help reduce the risk of transmission.
- What is the level of transmission within the local communities? Some areas have been harder hit than others. The CDC recommends consulting with the local or state public-health department.
For low-risk meetings that are scheduled to go on, the CDC has offered the following recommendations:
Before the Event
- 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.
- 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.
During the Event
- 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.
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.
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.