Risk Expert Says Covid Could Shift From Crisis to Nuisance in Early 2022

Rapid tests at airports and effective new treatments are on the horizon in developed countries, says Bruce McIndoe.

Photograph by Deacon MacMillan
Photograph by Deacon MacMillan

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A wave of developments over the next six months could make Covid a lot less threatening to the meetings and travel industry, according to risk-management expert Bruce McIndoe, president of McIndoe Risk Advisory LLC. Developed countries should expect to see rapid tests available at airports, and new treatments that will dramatically reduce hospitalizations and deaths.  

These were among the insights McIndoe shared during a Q&A session at Northstar’s Destination Hawaii hosted-buyer event, held this week at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa

Following are highlights of the discussion.

Loren Edelstein, NMG's vice president and content director, discusses Covid, travel and meetings with risk-management expert Bruce McIndoe.
Loren Edelstein, NMG's vice president and content director, discusses Covid, travel and meetings with risk-management expert Bruce McIndoe. Photo Credit: Deacon MacMillan

How concerned should we be about Omicrom?

This appears to be an incredibly transmissive virus. If you look at the growth path over the past three weeks, it is already rocketing off at a level faster than Delta. This is important for meeting planners, because when you have a more transmissive virus like this, it makes your life really difficult.

The good news is that all indications are that this variant is less severe; we're seeing that from case monitoring and hospitalization data. That's awesome because this is one way viruses can peter out. The coronavirus could end up mild like the common cold.

Meanwhile, Pfizer has already done the sequencing and is reformulating its vaccine to be more effective for Omicron and other future variants.

How effective is Covid testing in minimizing the risk of transmission during travel and meetings?

This is tricky. After you become infected, there’s a two- to five-day window during which you have enough viral load to be infectious to people around you before you begin to feel sick. That window is very dangerous, because you could have had a negative PCR test three days before a meeting, but by the time the meeting starts you could have enough viral load to transmit the virus.

I’m on the Travel Again industry advisory panel, and pre- and post-flight testing was a big topic of discussion early on. There was a major battle about the timing of tests. The science says you should be tested one day before you leave or, better yet, before you board. And of course, everyone was arguing that that was very logistically painful, and we need to give people a three-day window to get results and facilitate travel. 

Now, as of Dec. 6, inbound international travelers need a negative Covid test within one day of departure. For domestic travel, I believe we're going to end up with a two-day window for a test prior to departure.

That will be logistically difficult for a lot of people. Are any efforts underway to make it easier?

There’s been a major push by airlines and airports to have rapid testing at the airport, for both arrival and departure. If we give travelers rapid tests at the airports, in 15-30 minutes we’ll know if they’re good to go — or if they’re not going. This would help standardize and simplify the testing process, but who pays will be the major obstacle. Some states and countries are already doing the testing for free.

What is the most cautious approach for a meeting planner to take?

Requiring proof of vaccination absolutely has to be at the top of the list, and you have to define what it means to be fully vaccinated now. Is it one or two shots? Now it really should include the booster, and the FDA definition is having taken all recommended doses of a vaccine..

If you're going to bring unvaxxed people into your meetings, they should be tested 24 hours before they come. If the meeting is more than three days, they should be tested again on day two or day three.

The other part of this is mask-wearing. Masks that aren’t medical grade give you maybe 20 or 30 percent protection, but they primarily prevent you from spewing particles that could infect others. The only mask that protects you against being infected are respirators like N95s and KN95s that are well-fitted and properly worn.

Some medicines are in development that will treat people with Covid. What’s the timeline for those becoming available?

We’ll start seeing therapeutics hit the market in the first quarter of 2022 — pills, shots, nasal spray, everything. We will have a tsunami wave of therapeutics in developed countries, and the number of people with severe illnesses, intubation or dying will decrease dramatically.

What could meeting and event planners be doing better to provide a safe environment?

Above all else, they should require attendees to be fully vaccinated. But here’s the weak link: They need to enforce it.

I’ve been to six conferences in the past four months. At the vast majority, the lack of follow-through was ridiculous. At one event, we had to complete an online health questionnaire every day and present a printout or a green checkmark on your mobile device indicating that you’d done it. I did it the first day, took a screenshot of the check and showed it every morning as I came into the conference center. At another meeting, I used a female friend’s vaccine card as proof — just to see what would happen — and nothing happened. They just glanced at it and waved me through.

You can put these rules in place, but if there’s no efficacy behind it, what’s the point? That needs to change.