Best Practices: Hosting Events In The Age Of #Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Event Organizers and Large Venue Operators Must Exercise An Abundance Of Caution


Source: Constellation Research, Inc. Ambient Experience Summit 2020 Atlanta

Amidst the backdrop of coronavirus fears and the spread of COVID-19, event organizers, large venue promoters, and major league sports teams, must make the tough decisions on whether or not to host their events or cancel.  The decisions are not easy to make.  Given the lack of good information on how the virus is transmitted and how contagious the virus can be, most event organizers have opted for an abundance of caution.  A few have declared cancellations given their business models or the spread of outbreak among their core demographic.  In fact, a few mega events such as Mobile World Congress (large number of Chinese based vendors), Italy's Carnival and the Greek Aporkies (recent country specific outbreaks), and even F8 for Facebook have been cancelled. Recently, a number of events including Ceraweek, Domo, Intel, Zendesk Relate, and Zoom have cancelled their events (as of March 1st, 2019)


To put the coronavirus in perspective consider number of deaths for each type of incident:

  • 50,000,000 - Total global deaths from the Spanish Flu (1918)
  • 18,000,000 - Total global heart attack deaths (2016)
  •   9,600,000 - Total global lung cancer deaths (2018)
  •    1,250,000 - Total global vehicle deaths.  50,000,000 injured or disabled (2018)
  •       646,000 - Total global flu deaths, as low as 291,000 (2017)
  •             3,117 - Total global coronavirus COVID-19 deaths (based on reporting as of March 2, 2020)
  •                858 - Total global deaths up and until 2019
  •                747 - Total deaths from SARS (2002)

The fears and realities of hosting events amidst a rising epidemic and a potential global pandemic require new guidelines and procedures for all event organizers.  Once the fears subside, business must continue and major events and conferences must go on, but short of hosting virtual rooms and zero human contact, organizers will have to consider rules based on a number of factors:

1. Apply Pre-Event Precautions

  • Develop strict and precautionary attendance policies and restrictions.  Use the latest trackers to determine whom to limit attendance from.  At the time of this blog post, most event organizers suggest a limitation for potential attendees whom have visited within the past 60 days the countries of China, Italy, UK, UAE, Iran, South Korea, and Hong Kong.  However, targeting individual countries may become futile.  Use the Johns Hopkins live-tracker to determine which countries may pose the greatest risk as these changes happen in real-time.
  • Screen guests based on where they have visited.  Ask international attendees to produce their passports.  Any guests that have visited the targeted list of high risk countries in the past 60 days should not be cleared for entry into the event venues.   US based events should adhere to the travel restrictions and guidance of the U.S. Department of State
  • Apply generous cancellation policies given the current situation. Most event organizers have provided attendees the ability to apply their fees to the next year's event. Some have provided refunds.  A very few have not provided any refunds.
  • Discourage attendees who have any flu-like symptoms to attend.  Attendees who have a runny or stuffy nose, fever, cough, sore throat, symptoms of diarrhea, and symptoms of vomitting within the previous two weeks of the event should not attend the event.  Event organizers should make no exceptions.  Keep in mind with spring allergy seasons ahead of us, this will be a tough call.
  • Provide virtual attendance options.  Enable password protected or public live streams of keynotes, main stage events.  Provide paid attendees who can not attend an option to attend virtual sessions via live stream or platforms such as zoom, On24, WebEx, or SecondLife.
  • Establish data collection waivers in order to enable public health tracking.  Secure waivers for global privacy regulations to track any incidents.  Most organizers are implementing GDPR and PDPA waivers.
  • Partner with local authorities and health agencies.  Closely monitor World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and all new developments.  Apply new policies based on disease transmission etiologies. 
  • Update all attendees on the latest developments.  Send frequent updates to attendees on attendance criteria and  on site health and safety rules.  Most send a notice two-weeks in advance, one-week prior, three-days prior, one day prior, and throughout each event day.

2. Enforce Day Of Event Proactive and Cautionary Measures


Source: Constellation Research, Inc. Ambient Experience Summit 2020 Atlanta

  • Conduct temperature screenings at the event venue.  Most event venue operators or event organizers will screen using thermal scanners outside the venue.  All attendees will be subject to passive temperature screening measures.  Individuals with temperatures higher than 100 F (38 C) should be escorted to an isolation holding room.  Medical personnel will interview and quarantine the person if necessary.
  • Establish an isolation holding room with local public health authorities.  Event organizers should work with health agencies to staff a isolation holding room for suspected cases and implementation of standard operating procedures for disinfection.  The isolation room should be staffed with trained medical professionals and follow proper infectious disease protocols.
  • Require rigorous physical cleaning of the venue.  Require wipe-downs for all microphones and speaker monitors.  Increased frequency of physical cleaning and usage of appropriate disinfectant agents for door knobs, lecterns, escalator hand rails, trash receptacles, water stations, elevator bottoms, chairs, registration tables, and bathrooms.  Prepare for a provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) and roll out restricted entry and exit plans as needed.
  • Provide hand sanitizers and masks.  Ask all visitors to use hand sanitizers before entering the event and make sanitizer available throughout the event.  Make face masks available for all attendees if they feel unwell.
  • Display health advisories at event venue. Remind attendees to keep personal hygiene high, provide notices on hand washing and also minimizing physical contact.  Implement social distancing (stand a minimum of 3 feet away from people). Provide health advisories near water fountains, eating areas, food preparation, trash receptacles, bathrooms, and keynote venues.
  • Implement a "No Hand-Shake" policy at the event.  Use fist bumps, "ebola" elbow bumps, virtual hugs, air waves and hellos, and other mechanisms to replace the handshake during the crisis.   Wash all hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after any eating, blowing of the nose, coughing, sneezing, and using the bathroom.
  • Apply massive safety measures in food preparation and serving.  Consider using individually wrapped food instead of open buffets.  While individual wraps are not always eco-friendly, this exception may contain virus transmission.  If using buffets, ensure that there are splash and sneeze guards or other food safety in place for serving of food.  Feel free to shame guests who do not use food serving tongs or serving utensils and decide to pick things up with their hands.  Enforce no double dipping rules.
  • Place hand sanitization devices in front of all meal and beverage stations.  Many folks still don't wash their hands in restrooms and as a backup and prophylactic, having hand sanitizers at meal and beverage stations can improve hand washing or in this case hand sanitization efficacy. 
  • Request all attendees and exhibitors evaluate their own health and that of those they are in close contact with.  Feel free to report to any event organizers anyone that feels unwell you come in contact with.  Encourage attendees whoa re sick or showing symptoms of illness to stay home.
  • Increase medical personnel and security on-site.  Staff up to handle medical emergencies, provide on-site diagnosis, prepare the event venues, and oversee event medical operations.  Work with local infectious disease programs at hospitals and clinics to provide resources and testing kits.

3. Follow-up Post Event

  • Ask health outcomes in the post event surveys to attendees.  Use these surveys to monitor post event for diseases transmission.  See if any attendees are feeling unwell to prevent the spread of future transmission.
  • Prepare event attendee data in case an outbreak occurs. Expect health authorities to ask for event attendee data should an outbreak be traced back to the event.  Apply data collection for tracking of attendees post event.

4. Use These Resources To Track The Coronavirus Spread

The Bottom Line. No Need To Cancel Events If Safety Measures Put In Place

Most events do not need to be cancelled. However an abundance of caution should be applied.  Keep a good watch on the CDC updates and use the resources to determine when it makes sense to protect everyone who will be attending and when to cancel your event. Stay safe!

Your POV

Will you be ready to handle the coronavirus and other pandemics?  Will you keep your event or cancel it?   Add your comments to the blog or reach me via email: R (at) ConstellationR (dot) com or R (at) SoftwareInsider (dot) org.

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