By Laura Block, PharmD, NREMT
The only thing that we can predict about COVID-19 is that we can’t predict much. This is a novel virus, and while the scientific community is discovering an amazing amount of information very rapidly, our society and this virus move even faster.
As a convention-organizer, the best thing you can do is to develop a close relationship with your venue’s county, local, or state health department—specifically, their epidemiologists. Invite them out for a beer. Studies have shown that the majority of scientists love beer, almost as much as they love sharing their science with others. As your event gets closer, four weeks out, two weeks out, one week out…, find out what their recommendations would be with regards to preventing viral spread at your event, up to and including postponing or cancelling your event.
Let me reiterate, you want to talk to your local experts—the more local, the better. Your local epidemiologists know best what’s going on in your specific community. The CDC has a ton of useful information, but is probably not going to have much to say about your locality or your event. They are the big picture/guideline folks, and your local health department already takes their advice and knowledge into account.
Stay in close touch with your venue and hotels. Let them know that you are working in cooperation with the local health department. Find out when the deadline is for cancelling/postponing without losing (much) money. Keep them in the loop on what you’re hearing from the health experts and how that message may change the closer you get to your event date.
You will need to innovate. At the time of this writing (March 5th, 2020) CDC is recommending that people not touch each other, that we cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue that we immediately throw away, that we wash our hands frequently and use hand sanitizer when we can’t wash, that we not touch our faces, and that we keep about six feet of distance from each other.
Now think about the last anime convention you went to. How often did people maintain a distance of six feet from you? How often was everyone touching the same door handles, escalator handrails, elevator buttons, and registration pens? What innovations can you think of that might help? A “bring your own pen and box of tissues” drive for a special piece of convention swag? Encourage sing-alongs in the bathrooms while people wash their hands? Provide hand sanitizer at the end of the registration line and at the elevator doors? Perhaps a large tent outside to encourage more fresh-air mingling where it’s safer, regardless of the weather? How can you prevent bottlenecks and spread people out? How can you encourage sick folks to stay home? Perhaps institute a program for exchanging a 2020 membership for a 2021 registration?
Internally, your first-aid team and your administration need to agree on consistent messaging to convention attendees on how to stay as healthy as possible (such as the 5-2-1 Rule and the currently recommended infection control practices). Work with your venue on creating signage and communication that will be permitted to remain posted during the duration of your event. Find out if they have stands for displaying signage together with hand sanitizer.
We know that conventions put us at risk of the “con crud.” This oft joked-about side-effect of fandom has its own entry in Urban Dictionary, and usually involves a respiratory infection that can be hard to shake. Recently published articles suggest that attendees who get at least 5 hours of sleep a night are less likely to fall ill. And using the above interventions for social distancing and hand hygiene in a less extreme way can also be used to reduce the risk of flu and con crud.
Lastly, how can we help each other? How can you communicate your best practices, innovations, successes, and misses to other convention organizers so that everyone stays as healthy as possible and so that our shows not just live, but thrive another year? Do you collaborate with other events in your state? This is a good time to establish those relationships and collaborative efforts, and to support each other. And let us know what you think. Let’s start a dialogue. You can be sure we’ll be talking about this more on our Facebook page. Please do join us there.