Planners Beware, Covid Cases on the Rise

Skift Take

A new Covid variant is sweeping across the United States. One industry professional raises the alarm after contracting the virus at a recent convention.

A new strain of Covid called EG.5, or Eris, a highly contagious Omicron subvariant, is causing an uptick in Covid cases. In the second week of August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted a 21.6% upward trend in COVID-related hospitalizations.

CDC chart on covid-related hospitalization and death rates in the U,S. on August 6-12.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( captured on August 23, 2023

It is important to point out that this uptick in cases and hospitalizations is much lower than in previous summers. New hospitalizations for the same period in 2022 were 41,114, and 77,625 in 2021. Reassuringly, the difference is even greater when it comes to death rates. The CDC registered 251 Covid-related deaths for the week ending August 12. In the equivalent week in 2022, 3,284 lost their battle with Covid, and 9,406 the year prior.

EG.5 tends to infect the upper respiratory tract, causing a runny nose, sore throat, and other cold-like symptoms. That is exactly what Rich Vallaster, DES, CEM, director of marketing and trade shows for Personify, A2Z Events, came down with a few days after attending ASAE’s 2023 Annual Meeting & Exposition August 5-8 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.

He had two vaccines and a booster but tested positive on August 18. “It was five long days and late nights, and I came home feeling tired and then got a sore throat. On Friday, I tested positive,” he said.

He traveled by air from Maryland to Atlanta for the event and admits he could have picked it up there or even at Starbucks. But based on the five-day incubation period, he believes he contracted the virus at ASAE.

“I am willing to share my experience as it’s important we don’t ignore this. It’s still out there,” said Vallaster.

There were more Covid cases among his team. “There were 12 on-site, all of us vaxxed and mostly boosted. It seemed to hit us older folks and not the younger members of our group. Three out of 12 got it, and we all were at the same events. While not scientific, it was interesting,” said Vallaster.

Potential Impact on Meetings

While there is cause for concern, planners are unlikely to make masking mandatory or take other measures that were common just a year ago. Likewise, events no longer share Covid cases contracted onsite. This was more common earlier in the Covid recovery but has since fizzled out.

If the uptick continues, planners may want to consider reviving previously used Covid safety protocols and recommending masking. Any attendees most at risk are likely taking safety precautions themselves but will undoubtedly appreciate further preventative measures.

In addition, there is another variant worth tracking. A highly mutated variant of the coronavirus BA.2.86 is spreading worldwide, nicknamed Pirola, and has been detected in the United States, Denmark, Israel, and the U.K.

The CDC continues to share the same on prevention and protection from Covid.