This Just In

Key to Trade Shows Starting Again Is Testing

Andrea Doyle, Senior News Editor

SALT LAKE CITY — Early this year, industry technology company 42Chat was booked beyond capacity through the end of May. The company, founded in 2016 to do artificial intelligence (AI) chat, was flourishing. These chatbots deliver customer service and support events via SMS, the web, and other messaging channels.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. “In mid-March, we went from being fully booked to zero in 96 hours,” Robert Caldwell, Founding Partner at 42Chat, said. “To say that 2020 has been tough on the event industry would be an understatement. However, we see the light at the end of the tunnel, and for the first time in a long time, it doesn’t look like a train.”

When the trade show industry shut down, 42Chat had to pivot — and pivot it did. “When the pandemic hit, we shifted our focus to how we could help, and created HealthShield, an SMS-based COVID screening tool that lets users attest to their health before they enter an event or a building,” Caldwell said.

In just one week in October, 42Chat’s technology supported the safe return of three significant shows in three different cities. “These events, and our successful delivery of over 250,000 health screens in schools, youth sports, manufacturing, and other industries, have shown how to return to events safely,” Caldwell said. “For events, it all starts with doing everything reasonable to protect attendees, exhibitors, staffers, and venue teams.”

Related. Gathering in a COVID-19 World

HealthShield has supported hundreds of live events since June, but uses the word “event” broadly to mean any group of people coming together to meet in person. “This includes everything from smaller conferences, like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, to sports camps, practices and games, to schools and essential businesses.  And in case you don’t think attending school is an event, just try to check in 1,000 lower, middle, and high school students each day at 8 a.m.,” Caldwell added.

Robert Caldwell, Founding Partner at 42Chat

As a result, 42Chat has found there are three key areas critical for success.

Create a clean space. Enter groups like the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC), a Division of ISSA. Its GBAC STAR facility accreditation program on cleaning, disinfection, and infectious disease prevention establishes requirements to assist convention centers, hotels, and other venues in controlling risks that include the virus that causes COVID-19.

Build a bubble and screen everyone who enters. You must identify and capture a health screening for every single person who enters the building: every attendee, exhibitor, and staffer. You can’t let anyone in unless you have their contact information and have attested to their health and COVID exposure.

Group intelligently and be prepared to respond. Create meaningful groups that let you track as much as needed, who is interacting with whom and when. Establish specific protocols for onsite support and assessment and follow up after the event should someone be exposed.

“The logic is simple. If you have an infected building, it doesn’t matter what else you do, people will get sick. If you have a clean building, but let in someone who knows they are sick or had been exposed to COVID, then people will get sick. But if you have a clean building and everyone who comes in is healthy, it doesn’t matter what happens inside,” Caldwell said.

COVID-19 is a hidden enemy. “You can’t be certain everyone is healthy without testing. But you can go a long way toward creating the safest environment reasonably possible by identifying every show attendee’s health risk. From our experience, the everything reasonable list can be boiled down to five items.”

They are:

  • Wear a mask, wash hands frequently, and social distance.
  • Screen everyone for symptoms and temperature.
  • Capture each attendee’s contact information for tracking and follow-up communication.
  • Have controlled access checkpoints and a visible symbol to show that everyone has screened.
  • Provide trained medical staff and safety protocols to handle those that fail screening or become sick.

Check out the December issue of Trade Show Executive for a closer look at three shows 42Chat supported in October.

Reach Robert Caldwell at or (801) 971-4952.


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