The monkeypox outbreak is now a national health emergency. What does this mean to event planners?
While the first cases of monkeypox were reported in late April in Europe and the World Health Organization (WHO) called it a global health emergency at the end of July, it was the Biden-Harris Administration’s declaration of this being a public health emergency that got meeting and event planners to really take notice.
President Biden declared monkeypox a national health emergency, and several states also made announcements. Illinois dubbed the outbreak a public health emergency, California a state of emergency, and New York a state disaster emergency.
In Los Angeles County, monkeypox cases were reported among people who attended two large events, and of August 8, the CDC shows California at 1,310 cases. Nationwide, there were 8,900 cases.
Although the CDC is taking this threat very seriously, are meeting and event planners? “Monkeypox has never come up in conversation, never,” said Ellin Delsener, CEO, Event Associates, whose company provides fundraising and management services for special events.
Scott Ehrlich, chief executive officer, DTC Perspectives, whose company produces the Xpectives.Health Summit, each year, is also not overly concerned. “That would change if we started getting travel freezes or reduced meeting capacities because of it,” he said.
In Austin, Texas, officials published the Monkeypox safety guidelines issued by Austin Public Health (APH) for those attending events. Recommendations include “avoiding skin-to-skin contact with strangers, limiting close contact (sharing items like drinks and blankets) to people you know, and wearing well-fitting masks in close quarters when social distancing isn’t possible to reduce sharing mouth/nasal fluids.”
These new monkeypox safety guidelines were added as informational points to the mitigation strategies already in place relevant to event planners who must submit a Covid health and safety plan form with their special events city permit application.
While most cases are from sexual contact, according to WHO, that is not the only way that monkeypox can spread, infectious disease specialist Dr. Susan McLellan, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas, told NPR.
In a New York Times essay, “We Can Fight Monkeypox Without Hysteria or Homophobia,” science journalist Kai Kupferschmidt wrote, “Yes, monkeypox can infect anyone. Yes, this virus can spread in a variety of ways, including through touching an object handled by an infected person or even through a prolonged face-to-face conversation. But that is not what experts are seeing as the primary mode of spread for this outbreak.”
Is monkeypox the new Covid? Delsener says no. “This is completely different. As someone who was responsible for bringing groups of people together, that was something that all of our clients wanted to be sure was navigated.” For two years, everything was virtual, she said. Once there was a return to in-person events, “We had to jump through a lot of hoops, including proving negative status no more than 12 hours old. What will evolve with monkeypox? I have no idea.”
She is optimistic the national health emergency designation, “Will put more focus on the most important thing — releasing the medication which was not in stock. I hope the government is able to respond in a timely manner, and monkeypox will be contained quickly,” Delsener said. “Time will tell.”