To mask or not to mask, that is the question. Industry experts advise event planners to adhere to local health guidelines and pay attention to Covid infection and hospitalization rates.
As mask and vaccine requirements are rolled back, what does this mean to event planners who want to make their gatherings as safe as possible for attendees? Staying informed is step one, but that is no easy task.
Take Philadelphia. It was the first major city in the U.S. to reinstate its mask mandate for indoor activities as omicron BA.2 caused an uptick in Covid cases. Yet, four days later, this mandate was lifted, after federal travel mask mandates were struck down by Florida Judge Kathryn Mizelle. The judge ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) overstepped its bounds by imposing this mandate.
Mask mandates have now become “mask advisories,” with the CDC recommending that people wear masks in indoor transportation settings at this time. For more information about mask mandates on U.S. airlines, click here.
Adhere to Local Health Guidelines
What exactly does this mean to event planners? Industry experts advise event planners to adhere to local health guidelines and pay attention to infection and hospitalization rates.
When planning an event in this transitional time, Patricia Olinger, executive director for the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC), recommends being aware of all aspects of the location where your event is being held.
Is health and safety a focus of the venue you will be using? Is indoor air quality a high priority for the venue? Is hand sanitizer readily available? Are high-touch surfaces frequently cleaned and disinfected?
“After ascertaining this information, it is important to share your findings with your attendees. Transparent communication is key. It’s important they know all is being done to keep them healthy, and that the chances of them bringing home a virus is reduced,” Olinger said.
Masks and Human Resources
The on-again, off-again nature of the mask mandate leads to HR issues as well. How do you make an attendee, who lives with an immunocompromised family member, feel comfortable choosing to wear a mask when no one else is?
“People in general must be tolerant of others. We don’t know what is going on in someone else’s life,” Olinger said.
Although Olinger says we are in a gray area at present, she is optimistic because event planners now have the tools they need if there is a viral surge. “Vaccines, masks, social distancing, air purification, cleaning for health, and hygiene are some of the tools in our toolbox that help keep us safe and healthy. If there is an uptick in numbers, all of these can be deployed,” she said. “We have learned a tremendous amount and we are better for it, and our gatherings going forward will focus on health, wellness, and resiliency.”
Project Voice Doesn’t Mention Covid or Mask Mandates
Project Voice 2022, taking place at the end of April, has not mentioned Covid or masks in any of its registration material or on its website. “It is unwritten. If someone wants to wear a mask they can,” Bradley Metrock, CEO, Project Voice, the organizing group behind the conference, said.
The conference will be smaller with 750 registered attendees in comparison to the 2,000 that were average before the pandemic.
“We didn’t morph the size due to health reasons, but for psychological reasons. We trust no one is completely comfortable with spending time with thousands of their closest friends right now, so we capped it to make our attendees feel more comfortable,” Metrock said.
While his organization did continue to have gatherings over the last two years, they were either held in very controlled settings in venues where health and safety is a priority, or outdoors when possible.
“We are attracting much more executive-level groups. Senior management has been traveling, while middle management is just getting back to it,” Metrock said.
As a result, events must be more high value than ever before. “We self-audit every single thing we include in our events and ask: is this worth someone getting on a plane for? That, to me, is what is respectful of someone’s health and safety. Making sure every moment they are with us is maximized.”
A helpful resource for planning events during this transition period is the CDC’s Events and Gatherings Readiness and Planning Tool. It can be accessed by clicking here.