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Can Planners Let Down Their Guard on Covid?

Not yet, it seems. Dozens of attendees from a recent health-agency meeting became ill days afterward, while a panel of virus experts estimates a sizable chance of a new wave of illness within 24 months.

Despite the director general of the World Health Organization saying on May 4 that Covid is no longer a “global health emergency,” recent developments show that the virus is still a risk factor that meeting and event groups should consider.

Case in point: Days after the Centers for Disease Control held its 2,000-person annual meeting in Atlanta in late April—its first in-person event in four years, and one focused specifically on the Covid virus—more than three dozen attendees reported testing positive for Covid. Masking was not required of participants, and the meeting’s layout did not account for social distancing, according to this article in the Washington Post.

“CDC is working with the Georgia Department of Health to conduct a rapid epidemiological assessment of confirmed Covid-19 cases that appear to be connected to the 2023 EIS Conference to determine transmission patterns,” CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund told the Post.

Further, the Biden administration was warned last week by a panel of 12 virologists and immunologists that there’s about a 20 percent chance that, within two years, a Covid outbreak will happen that matches the omicron-variant wave that hit the U.S. between November 2021 and May 2022. One of the most senior experts on the panel believes the risk is closer to 40 percent.

A Health-Event Planner’s Covid Protocols
While many meeting groups have dropped their Covid protocols for reasons of convenience or cost and because the risk of severe illness is notably lower due to vaccines and improved treatments, some organizations nonetheless are choosing to remain vigilant.

This week, the National Network of Public Health Institutes is hosting a meeting of more than 700 people in Washington, D.C. Carmelita Marrow, director of communications and conventions for NNPHI, says that she has planned the meeting with Covid in mind. First, Marrow used pre-event communications to make those who wish to wear masks comfortable doing so. She’s also established a rapid-testing area on site for those who choose to be tested; ensured that meals have hotel staff serving at buffet stations rather than allowing self-service; and spoken with the hotel’s operations team about air ventilation and filtration systems to make sure they have been recently serviced.

In addition, “we are offering attendees their choice of colored lanyards to demonstrate their comfort with social interaction on site,” she says. “Red indicates that you want to keep your distance. Yellow indicates you are cautious and prefer elbow bumps to handshakes. Green indicates you are comfortable with handshakes and closer interaction.” 

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