The risk of someone catching COVID-19 could be almost zero for a show held this summer, according to a study by the Exhibitions and Conferences Alliance (ECA)’s Go LIVE Together (GLT) campaign and Epistemix, the latter which is an expert in infectious-disease modeling. That news, based on Epistemix scientific modeling, prompted ECA and the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) to issue a call to action on April 8, Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID), for states to develop reopening plans for business events. The Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO) also has sent out an alert to its members urging them to take action.
On April 13, ECA also announced it was partnering with Epistemix to provide expert guidance on how to safely reopen trade shows and events, based on event size and when event capacities can safely increase in locations across the U.S. COVID-19 and its associated shutdowns and travel reductions shrunk the business-to-business exhibition segment of the $396 billion U.S. business events industry by $80 billion during 2020, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR).
“The exhibitions and events industry needs timely written reopening guidelines from state and city government officials in order to assist the needed planning efforts of event organizers,” said David DuBois, CMP, CAE, FASAE, ECA Co-President.
“It takes several months of planning in order to make decisions and communicate and then execute successful shows and conferences. The models, as developed by Epistemix and the Exhibitions and Conferences Alliance, definitively show how low the COVID transmission rates are when our industry takes, as it has been taking, appropriate safety and health precautions and procedures. It is important to share this valuable and impactful information with our government and health officials.”
Stated ECA Chairman Hervé Sedky: “The Center for Exhibition Industry Research estimates that events contributed $101 billion to the U.S. GDP in 2019. Our industry has what can be called a multiplier effect on businesses, in that the impact of these events stimulate economies across the U.S. through sales that occur beyond the walls of convention centers.”
Epistemix uses mathematical and scientific data to custom-build epidemiological models to support trade show reopening decision-making while preventing the spread of COVID-19, according to Epistemix President Dr. Don Burke.
The company has built similar models for other epidemics, including smallpox, HIV, SARS and MERS, using software that incorporates a “digital twin” that matches the age, gender, race and other demographic information of each individual in a specific geography. It then uses this synthetic population to model how to safely host a conference, trade show or other large event during COVID-19.
A Model for Reopening
For the study announced on April 8, Epistemix — in partnership with GLT and ECA — included several factors in modeling the anticipated risk for events planned for 2021. Among these are the potential level of immunity in a given locale based on historical infection rates, vaccination rates and the potential impact of new variants. It also included estimates of the likely number of infectious people who might attend based on the event’s size and the attendees’ area of origin, and the adoption of voluntary health and safety measures.
The upshot of the study was that a 20,000-person event held in New York this summer which had taken all the voluntary precautions should have an infection rate of almost zero.
Taking the Model on the Road
The ECA is now taking these models to top trade show cities throughout the U.S. to bolster its increasingly urgent calls for states to develop trade show reopening plans. Through the new partnership, ECA will also be able to develop science-based plans for safely bringing large-scale business gatherings back in the U.S.
While California Governor Gavin Newsom’s recently announced plans to reopen the state for group events on June 15 was welcome, it does include a 5,000-person attendee cap, along with some testing and vaccine-verification requirements that could “make hosting successful business events all but impossible,” said DuBois, who is also President and CEO of IAEE. The American Public Transportation’s recent decision to move its event from California to Florida, which is more widely open for group events, puts California and other states that are still restricting large business events at risk of losing them to states with less-restrictive policies.
“We are working to help state leaders understand the economic impact of business events, as well as our industry’s unified commitment to adhering to health and safety guidelines, and the planning required to produce an event, so that local guidelines can be adjusted to allow us to reopen events across the nation,” DuBois said.
On GMID, he called upon trade show organizers to download and share this fact sheet with local authorities in upcoming host destinations. The sheet includes what venues and event organizers are doing to meet and exceed voluntary health and safety compliance measures, including the industry-wide AllSecure Guidelines, GBAC STAR accreditation and, for hotels, Safe Stay Guidelines.