ATLANTA, Ga. – As the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic changes almost minute to minute, anyone involved with event planning is scrambling much like everybody else.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended all events scheduled to have more than 50 people be canceled or postponed over the next eight weeks.
Further, U.S. President Donald Trump urged Americans to limit their social gatherings to less than 10 people during a news conference at the White House earlier this week.
Individual states and cities have officially set different standards. For example, the State of Wisconsin and the City of Omaha, Neb., have banned any social gatherings of more than 10 people.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts has limited social gatherings to fewer than 25 people. The City of St. Louis, initially banned events of 1,000 or more people, but as the situation has unfolded, the number dropped to 50.
The CDC has released interim guidelines for event and meeting planners to address the COVID-19 outbreak.
It is “strongly” encouraging event organizers and staff to create emergency plans for large gatherings and community events, and continually monitor ongoing updates to determine whether to move forward or not.
Some factors the CDC recommends to consider whether to postpone or cancel include:
• The estimated attendance of the event, as larger groups represent a greater risk of COVID-19 transmission
• The proximity attendees of the event will be within each other. Experts have warned the public to stay further than six feet from each other to help contain the spread of the virus
• The level of virus transmission both in the community where the event is taking place, and where attendees will travel from
• If it is possible to hold the event with a significantly reduced number of attendees
Event planners are also encouraged by the CDC guidelines to take the following measures:
• Meet with the operations or planning team at the venue to discuss emergency plans and the potential impact on the event, including aspects such as security, services and resources. A contingency plan should be developed to address a wide variety of scenarios
• Establishing close relationships with key partners such as public health department officials, hospitals, and law enforcement
• Reminding any event staff or volunteers to engage in preventative actions such as covering up during a cough or sneeze, constantly washing hands and using hand sanitizer, and cleaning frequently touched surfaces and objects daily
Planners should be prepared to deal with staff shortages and absences on short-notice. Any staff or volunteers who are elderly or may having underlying medical conditions should be encouraged to refrain from participating or be reassigned to duties with less social interaction.
Attendees who are high-risk or already showing symptoms should be strongly advised to avoid attending any social gatherings. “Flexible” refund policies should be considered to those who are unable to attend.
Lastly, in the event someone becomes ill while attending an event, planners should prepare space at a venue to isolate them from other attendees and staff. The CDC recommends providing anyone becomes sick with disposable facemasks, but notes this does not replace the need for someone who is sick to leave as soon as possible, and even potentially receive medical care.
As the CDC notes it may be some time until the impact of the virus’ outbreak wane, event planners are encouraged to stay in touch with public health officials to be aware of when preventative actions are scaled back.
Planners, along with venue staff, should discuss lessons to be learned in the future from the COVID-19 outbreak.
For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.