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Conferences in the Age of Covid

In the United States alone, the death toll from Covid has reached one million. But we’re also seeing a reduction in cases, and some indication that the light at the end of the tunnel is real.

No matter what goes on with Covid, the work of associations needs to continue, and this may include annual conferences, workshops, and other mass meetings.

Let’s review some methods we can use to make these gatherings as safe as possible.

Choose one set of guidelines to operate from

This may seem like retread advice after we’ve all heard “CDC guidelines” daily for two years, but it is important to have a set of procedures your entire team and all conference guests can refer to. It literally puts everyone on the same page about what will be done to mitigate Covid transmission. Good options include your local health department (especially if your conference is in a major city), state health department, or the CDC guidelines.

Designate a single person for Covid concerns

The easiest way to ensure good communication and eliminate diffusion of responsibility is to have a single staff member handle Covid mitigation at the conference. This person should be: Familiar with both the chosen guidelines and the exact plans your staff has decided on

  1. The sole point of contact for attendees and staff on Covid issues

  2. Empowered to make changes as the event goes on, if necessary

  3. In contact with (and coordinating with) the venue’s safety coordinator, planning team or other personnel.

Plan ahead for those who wish to stay home, or who become ill

Some attendees are likely to pass on public events even now, especially if we see another rise in cases this Spring. Make provisions for them to attend virtually by streaming your events. Others may plan to attend and pay fees, then have a positive Covid test that prevents them from doing so. Ensure you have a clear refund policy in place ahead of time to deal with these situations.

Have a cancellation plan

In the unlikely event you need to cancel the event due to a spike in cases, it’s best to have a plan ready to go instead of creating it on the fly. Treat it like a fire drill: A procedure that you probably won’t need but will be essential if disaster strikes.

Base mask wearing on the risk level in the community

Each county in America is assessed by the CDC as low, medium, or high risk, with 70% of American counties currently in the low or medium range. When planning your conference and communicating with attendees, you can use this risk level and the resulting CDC recommendations as a simple common yardstick:

  1. Low risk: Masks are not required

  2. Medium risk: Masks are required for those who are immunocompromised or may have a high risk of severe illness if they contract Covid. It is recommended that others wear masks in large gatherings to protect these people from transmission.

  3. High risk: Everyone should wear masks indoors regardless of their immunization and health status.

Of course, every facility and gathering should comply with local health department directives.

Take it outside when you can, and limit meeting size when you can’t

Covid spread has been found to be negligible during outdoor events and going outdoors beats stuffy meeting rooms anyway! If weather or other factors prevent outdoor meetings, try to keep the size of indoor meetings low, or hold them in large, well-ventilated spaces.

Encourage basic hygiene and provide plenty of supplies

Basic handwashing, hand sanitizer use, covering coughs and sneezes, etc., do a great deal to prevent transmission. Ensure that you encourage these practices and provide hand sanitizer, wipes, disposable masks, and whatever else attendees need to keep themselves and others safe.

Need Help Planning Your Next Gathering?

At V2, we’ve provided full service and outsourced services for national associations for many years—including event planning—and can deliver the resources and expertise that help you thrive. Get in touch with us today, and let’s see how we can improve your association together.


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