With most areas of public life, including air travel and in-person gatherings, no longer limited by Covid-related restrictions, the stubborn persistence of the mutating virus is causing fresh concerns.
Thanks to two new Covid strains—EG.5 and BA.2.86—there’s been a recent increase in cases in a number of countries, including the U.S. Some proof: Data from the National Health Service in the United Kingdom showed a 17 percent increase in Covid hospitalizations in the second week of August versus the week prior, while Denmark and Israel are also reporting notably higher case numbers over the past month.
Further, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control showed a 14.3 percent rise in nationwide Covid hospitalizations during the first half of August, from 9,026 to 10,320. While that number is relatively low, it does not represent the total number of new cases nationwide; most states no longer report their cases into a centralized Covid-tracking system. And some medical experts are concerned that the most recent Covid variants can evade the protections offered by prior infection and prior vaccinations.
There is also anecdotal evidence of renewed viral spread that’s causing some organizations to take action. For instance, major entertainment company Lionsgate has brought back a mask mandate for employees at its headquarters office in Santa Monica, Calif. The reason: Multiple employees tested positive for Covid in the past month after attending concerts and other public events or traveling overseas on business. According to an article on Deadline.com, Lionsgate also is conducting contact tracing and providing at-home Covid test kits to employees upon request.
Elsewhere, Atlanta-based Morris Brown College has instituted a mask mandate through September 6 for students and employees on campus, along with physical distancing, hand hygiene, and contact tracing. In Georgia, Covid hospitalizations are up by more than 30 percent in the past month.
What You Can Do
For planners with events taking place in the coming weeks and months, these developments bring the question of masking back into their purview.
One tip: Meeting hosts might want to deliver a clear message in pre-event communications that masking is optional for participants but welcome, while also noting that the event’s code of conduct prohibits unmasked participants from bothering masked participants about their choice. The event’s space designs could also incorporate some social-distancing elements to reduce the chance of viral spread, and hand-sanitizer stations could be placed throughout the space. Asking the host property about recent maintenance on its HVAC system and the equipment used for air filtration is a wise idea, too.
For a list of Covid-related considerations for upcoming meetings, check out this MeetingsNet article written by Shayna Moskowitz, DES, account director for TaylorMade Experience LLC and a certified pandemic-compliance advisor for meetings and events.