Coronavirus and Meetings
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President Donald Trump on April 16 unveiled a series of criteria aimed at providing guidance to states as they begin planning to reopen their economies after overcoming the worst of the COVID-19 crisis. The three-phase plan includes broad guidelines related to large venues, business travel and other areas that are tied to the meetings industry.
Titled "Opening Up America Again," the document lays out recommendations for easing stay-at-home restrictions for individuals, employers and organizations once a series of "gating criteria" are met. These criteria include a downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases and symptoms and a robust testing program for health-care workers, including emerging antibody testing.
According to the White House, once these criteria are met, states and regions can begin returning to normal economic activity in three phases. During Phase One, everyone is directed to maximize physical distance from others, avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people and minimize nonessential travel. Employers are urged to encourage working from home, close common areas where workers congregate and minimize nonessential travel requirements; large venues can operate, but under "strict physical distancing protocols."
Phase Two raises the limit of gatherings to groups of up to 50 people and allows nonessential travel to resume, for both individuals and employers. As long as "moderate physical distancing" is enforced, large venues are able to operate. For Phase Three, individuals are only encouraged to "consider minimizing time spent in crowded environments" while employers are encouraged to "resume unrestricted staffing of worksites."
To transition from one phase to the next, there must be no evidence of a rebound in cases and the gating criteria must be met each time — meaning there is a continued downward trajectory of cases and symptoms. Each phase must last a minimum of 14 days.
The guidelines were announced amidst debate over when and under what conditions states and regions should begin loosening their social-distancing restrictions and stay-at-home orders. Shortly after the guidelines were unveiled, governors of some states, including Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia, announced plans to reopen parts of their economy. But public-health experts and other state and local leaders have warned that easing restrictions too quickly before more testing is made available could result in a spike in cases and longer-term damage to the economy.
Meanwhile, leaders in the meetings and travel industries have been calling for the development of our own criteria around future meetings and events requirements. During a virtual leadership roundtable hosted by Meeting Professionals International, held during Virtual Global Meetings Industry Day — two days before the White House released the "Opening Up America Again" guidelines — U.S. Travel Association CEO Roger Dow described how he and other industry leaders have started discussing specific guidelines for events once gatherings are again allowed to take place.
Dow noted that such guidelines should define specifics such as how far chairs should be set apart and how gathering places should be monitored, stressing that the industry should make these decisions before federal or state officials make them first. "We did this with [the development of Meetings Mean Business] and I think we've got to do the same thing now, to take control of our destiny and not put it in others' hands. Be smart about it, but do it together."
Since then, industry suppliers such as Wynn Resorts and Marriott International have publicized their own plans for new protocols that address health, cleanliness and distancing challenges.