Trade Shows and Events Enter New Phase: COVID Mitigation

Frances Ferrante, Senior Editor

WASHINGTON, D.C. — When it comes to the pandemic, no one is watched more closely than Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Adviser to President Joe Biden. The general public, media and stock market analysts scrutinize his every word for signs of what’s to come. When Fauci told ABC News that once Omicron peaks in mid-February, the hope is the level of infection would fall below what he called an “area of control,” many heeded these words with optimism.

“Control means you’re not eliminating it, you’re not eradicating it, but it gets down to such a low level that it’s essentially integrated into the general respiratory infections that we have learned to live with,” he told ABC’s Martha Raddatz.

His comments were mirrored by former Food and Drug Administration Chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb, telling CNBC’s “The Squawk Box” that unless there is a dramatic shift in the virus, it will likely enter an endemic state in the foreseeable future. “I think the base case is that this signals the end of the pandemic phase of this virus,” Gottlieb said.

Meanwhile, the Omicron BA.2 variant was making its way to several states after rapidly spreading throughout parts of Europe and Asia. BA.2 appears to be slightly more contagious than Omicron BA.1, but preliminary data from the UK shows that the COVID vaccine booster appears to be as effective against it as its Omicron sister. It remains to be seen if this will be the case should another variant emerge.

Related. CES 2022 Marches On Amid Omicron, Shows the World How It’s Done 

“Everyone is ready for this pandemic to be over. Unfortunately it is not … yet,” Patty Olinger, Executive Director of the Global Biorisk Advisory Council, said. “We hear optimistically that we are at a turning point. We all hope so. But it is not the first time we have heard this. It is time to embrace that COVID-19 will be with us for a while, potentially like the flu.”

As the trade show industry continues to move through the next phase of the pandemic, Olinger recommends vigilance. “We must keep the current infection-prevention, health and hygiene practices in place. As GBAC has promoted from Day 1, we must be prepared for a layered, scalable response.”

From June 2021 through October 2021, more than a million people – exhibitors, small- and large-business owners and others – attended hundreds of events held in dozens of major cities across the U.S., according to the Exhibitions and Conferences Alliance. In most cases, there has been little to no post-event reporting regarding COVID outcomes.

Though there are infections it’s impossible to trace the source to a single event. In most cases, there also appears to be little interest from both attendees and organizers to do so.

“What we need to remember moving forward is that we are going to have cases,” Amanda Schleede, CEO of AttendSafe, which provides pandemic safety consulting and on-site services to trade shows including vaccine verification and testing, said. “It’s how you mitigate the risk of those cases and their interactions with others at the event that is most important. Have a health and safety plan in place and communicate, communicate, communicate it to your vendors and attendees.”

That was the goal of PCMA, organizers of Convening Leaders, held earlier this month in Las Vegas, which released daily health and safety updates. A 14-day post-event report highlighted the final numbers: 96 reported positive cases (all mild) out of 2,300 verified in-person participants — a positivity rate of 4% of the total in-person participation, which they cited was “significantly lower than recent public norms.” The association, which had required full vaccination and masking, but no testing, emailed followers: “Through education, communication and protocol compliance by our participants, we were able to keep people safe.”

Reach Patty Olinger at (847) 982-0800 or pattyo@issa.com; Amanda Schleede at (773) 851-2783 or amanda@eventsafe.com