COVID-19 has gained a firm foothold in the US, and planners are navigating the treacherous waters between outbreaks and Trump’s European travel ban. Meanwhile, the CDC has released an interim guide to help event professionals get their events ready. Here are the highlights.
As COVID-19 is spreading through whole communities at a fast pace, event professionals who are planning mass gatherings or large community events in the weeks and months to come should be prepared to deal with what an outbreak would mean for their events.
Giving in to panic is not an option and there are strategies you can adopt in case of an outbreak in the community hosting your event. Here is what the CDC recommends you implement before, during, and after a COVID-19 outbreak.
Before a COVID-19 Outbreak
If the destination community for your event has not seen an outbreak yet, the most important thing to do at this point is to plan your response.
Review all emergency plans:
- Meet with the people in charge of emergency operations for the venue and discuss their emergency operations plans and how they could impact your events.
- Plan for different scenarios in your own contingency plan.
- Determine the criteria you will use to decide if your event should be postponed or canceled and discuss them with the venue and local public health officials.
Build strong relationships locally:
- Communicate and collaborate with all community partners, such as local government and public health departments that might have a role in the emergency response.
- Get involved in local emergency preparedness activities.
Address all key prevention strategies in your emergency plan:
- Promote prevention measures to limit the spread of the disease, such as washing hands, covering coughs or sneezes, etc.
- Plan for extra prevention supplies such as hand sanitizers, tissues or disposable facemasks (for people with symptoms).
- Plan for staff absence by promoting flexible attendance, sick-leave policies and alternative coverage for critical positions.
- Discourage people from attending if they have symptoms.
- Designate a suitable space for the isolation of people who become sick at the event.
- Limit in-person contact for your staff.
- Develop refund policies for your participants.
- Identify actions if you need to postpone or cancel, such as alternative ways to enjoy the event, for example online.
- Identify all the actors in your event process (staff, participants, suppliers, vendors, community partners, etc.) and implement systems for sharing information with them (website, automated text messages, etc.).
- Distribute updated and accurate emergency communication information to all these actors.
- Pay extra attention to potential language, cultural, and disability barriers that could impair your communication effort.
During a COVID-19 outbreak
Now is the time to act.
Put your plans into action:
- Stay informed about the local situation through public health officials.
- Update key partners frequently on your response to the outbreak.
- Distribute health messages, promoting preventive measures.
- Provide prevention supplies to staff and participants.
- Consider alternatives for staff or participants at high risk for complications, such as reassigning duties or providing refunds.
- Implement flexible staff attendance and sick-leave policies.
- Separate those who become sick, provide them with disposable facemasks, help them leave the event as soon as possible, and connect them with your medical resources, local partners, or local medical authority to seek medical advice.
If an outbreak occurs in the community before your event is due to take place:
- Review the criteria you discussed in the planning phase with your venue and local public health officials.
- Determine if the event should be postponed or canceled.
If the criteria are met for canceling or postponing your event, communicate to all actors:
- Alert event staff and participants immediately.
- Inform participants of your emergency refund policy or re-ticketing options.
- Give regular updates about when your event will occur.
After a COVID-19 outbreak
As in any emergency situation, it is important to follow-up and highlight areas that might need improvement for future similar situations.
Evaluate how effective your emergency plans were:
- Meet with the venues and discuss what went well or not so well.
- Gather feedback from staff, participants, etc.
- Identify the gaps in the plans.
Prepare for the future:
- Expand your network of partners needed to help you prepare for such emergencies.
- Participate in community activities geared towards emergency preparedness.
As COVID-19 continues to compromise events worldwide, event professionals and trade associations will need to keep abreast of the best, most reliable advice to ensure their events are prepared. These are CDC’s latest recommendations for event planners, but we should expect them to evolve with the escalating situation. We’ll continue to keep you updated.