Last month 14,000 attendees descended on Las Vegas for the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Global Health Conference and Exhibition. About the same time the Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) West Trade Show went off smoothly in Anaheim, Calif., with some 17,000 attendees. The HIMSS conference required vaccines, offered free COVID testing, health screening, as well as a mask mandate. MD&M, meanwhile, required masks and COVID testing. Neither conference became a super-spreader event despite current concerns about the more contagious Delta variant.
Those are just two of many stories of safe meetings taking place throughout the country that are not making headline news. Instead, a steady stream of headlines focusing on meetings and event cancellations in light of the Delta variant is painting a picture of an industry on pause.
To spotlight the safety of meetings, the U.S. Travel Association and Meetings Mean Business Coalition partnered to launch the Let's Meet There campaign, which seeks to change the narrative on professional meetings and events (PMEs), emphasizing the low risk of COVID-19 transmission as well as the benefits to the business community. PMEs delivered $139 billion in local travel spending in 2019, but the CDC has lumped PMEs in with “large gatherings” in with its COVID restrictions. That along with inconsistent public health measures around the country has hurt the industry despite the proven safety of meetings and events, which are more controlled as far as safety protocols than other types of large gatherings.
U.S. Travel and Meetings Mean Business held a held a press conference at the National Press Club earlier this week to emphasize the safety of meetings. As noted at the press conference, currently, cities throughout the country are hosting safe meetings, large and small, and in fact are proving to be a safer environment than personal get-togethers in most attendees’ own home towns, and even safer than going grocery shopping. A variety of research data to support the safety of PMEs was provided.
Meetings Safety Research Data
Epistemix modeling found risks of infection at events to be as much as eight times less than within the local community where the event was held and pose no more risk than most normal daily activities.The Epistemix modeling analysis also found that events have not been major drivers of case counts, largely due to the fact that both attendees and exhibitors at in-person events have higher vaccination rates (~80%) than the overall population.
According to Ohio State University, PMEs have the advantage of being organized by professional planners and in controlled settings where factors such as vaccine or testing requirements and mask mandates can be enforced. Some meetings such as the IPW travel conference in Las Vegas this month, are requiring attendees to upload their own vaccination proof or COVID negative test for entry before registration. Other mitigation strategies at
meetings include physical distancing, disinfecting surfaces, as well as proper ventilation and airflow.
An analysis by the Ohio State University concludes that PMEs have not been super-spreader events. The numbers from scientific modeling by the Exhibitions and Conferences Alliance and Epistemix show that in-person PMEs pose a near-zero (0.001%) risk of COVID-19 transmission to attendees—even for large events.
In addition business travelers and meeting planners have a higher vaccination rate than the general public. According to Destination Analysts, 78 percent of Americans who have traveled for business in the last two years have been vaccinated,compared to 72 percent of American travelers overall.
As of mid-July, nearly nine in 10 corporate travel buyers and suppliers were at least partly vaccinated according to a July Global Business Travel Association member poll, and nearly nine in 10 planners and suppliers are vaccinated as cited in PCMA’s June COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard.
Flying Is Safe
Flying to meetings is also a safe way to travel, even on longer international flights. Research from the Mayo Clinic shows the risk of a person becoming infected with COVID-19 boarding a flight from the U.K. to the U.S. is 1 out of 10,000. The same research shows that the risk of an infected passenger transmitting the virus to another passenger flying from the U.K. to the U.S. is even lower, at 1 out of 1 million passengers.
The Aerospace and International Airline Medical Associations found that the risk of contracting COVID-19 during air travel is lower than contracting the virus while in an office building, classroom, grocery store or commuter train.
Passengers in the U.S. also are proving to have higher vaccination rates than the general public. The vaccination rates among American travelers who have traveled by air in the last two years is 79 percent according to Destinations Analysts, as compared to the 63 percent full vaccination rate of the U.S. population according to the CDC.
A Harvard study also recently found that flights are low risk for transmission of COVID. The HEPA air filters used on planes are the same type of air filters used in hospital operating rooms according to the research conducted by the Aerospace and International Airline Medical Associations.
The mask mandate on flights, as well as trains and other public transit, was also recently extended by TSA through January 2022, adding to the safety factor.
Tips for a Safe Meeting
For planners and groups looking to host meetings, the Events Industry Council formulated a Meeting and Event Code of Conduct for attendees:
Before Leaving Home:
- Follow relevant guidance provided by the World Health Organization(WHO),or your local health authority.
- Adhere to government issued travel restrictions and guidance issued by the region you will be travelling to and the region you are travelling from.
- Evaluate your own health and that of people you are in close contact with; contact the meeting/event organisers if you have concerns.
- Stay home if you feel sick.
On-site During the Event
- Follow guidance from your local health authority, for everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses including:
- Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or an alcohol- based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Throw used tissues in the trash.
- Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Agree to have your temperature taken before entering the meeting/event venue, if required by the event organisers.
- Agree to wear a mask or facial covering, if required by the event organisers.
- Adhere to social distance protocols put in place by the event organisers and respect others’ personal space.
- Go to the event First Aid office (or equivalent) at any time, if you feel unwell or are experiencing flu-like symptoms.
Based on current contact tracing advice from many health authorities, if you test positive for COVID-19 up to 14 days after returning home, please contact the meeting/event organisers to advise them.