Face masks are out, hand-washing is in, and managing attendee fear is paramount. Welcome to events in the age of the coronavirus (Covid-19). With the rapidly evolving virus taking hold of the industry, we compiled tips from two doctors serving the event industry, as well as information on what major venues across the globe are doing to handle the crisis, to help you better communicate and plan amidst the current outbreak.
More on Covid-19 and Events:
- CORONAVIRUS: Rolling Coverage of the Impact of Covid-19 on Events
- Covid-19 Cancellations, Venue Tactics and Health Safety Tips
1. Communicate regularly.
Jonathan Spero, M.D., ceo at InHouse Physicians, recommends developing a business continuity plan to “maintain the integrity” of an event. That means crafting detailed event communications that keep attendee regularly updated as well as posting an enforceable sick policy that states that prevents people showing signs of severe illness (like a respiratory condition or fever) from entering an event.
“Organizers need to focus on how to manage the fear because that’s what’s disrupting the event industry,” Spero says.
2. Signage, signage, signage.
On-site, it’s important to remind attendees with signage to wash hands regularly (with soap and water, and for at least 20 seconds), to visit hand sanitizer stations regularly and to cover their mouths with their elbow, or tissues, when they sneeze (and then discard tissues right away, of course).
“We always have signs at our venues that [say] ‘cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.’ But I think it’s important, if you have a fever, you have cough, you have a sore throat, and most importantly, any difficulty breathing, to seek help right away,” says Connor Fitzpatrick, executive director at CrowdRX, an event health service provider.
3. Consider a “social distancing” policy.
The RAI Amsterdam Convention Centre for the KubeCon + CloudNativeCon show encouraged attendees to maintain “social distancing,” i.e. to adopt a no-handshake policy at the event and stand a minimum of 3 feet (1 meter) from other people.
The convention center is also advising staff to sanitize all surfaces regularly, including speaker microphones between each speaker’s use.
4. Surgical masks aren’t useful.
Despite the hordes of people wearing surgical face masks at airports and other public places, Spero says the practice is not recommended for healthy individuals. Don’t plan to stock up on masks and distribute them at scale. But do have some set aside for attendees who may start to exhibit symptoms and need to protect others in the process of leaving the premises.
“They don’t really offer a great deal of protection [for healthy people],” Spero says. “What face masks can be used for is if you are sick. Let’s say you’re sick at a public event. If you wear a surgical mask, you are decreasing the chance of transmitting influenza or the coronavirus because when you cough, you create this six-foot perimeter where your droplets go. And if you wear a mask, you reduce that perimeter significantly.”
And if you’ve seen the heavy-duty face masks out there (ya know, the ones that make people look like Bane from “The Dark Knight Rises”), you may be wondering how those are different from simple surgical ones. The masks, officially called N95 respirator masks, are fitted and designed to capture any droplets the wearer might inhale. The items are generally worn by healthcare providers who are exposed to a sick person to prevent their own illness. But Spero says having a few N95 masks on-site at events is a good precautionary measure to protect staff in case there is a potential exposure.
5. Technology Can Help Prevent Infection at Event Venues.
Some of the tools used to routinely disinfect event venues are particularly useful during a virus outbreak. If you don’t have access to such tools, now’s the time to do your research.
“We as a company offer disinfecting services, too,” says Fitzpatrick. “We go into arenas and stadiums and theaters, routinely but especially during flu season, and offer disinfecting services using an electrostatic disinfecting machine. It’s a custom product that Clorox has developed that covers 360 degrees of the entire place. You’re just walking around spraying things and a little particulate is charged with electrostatic energy—it’s actually going to stick to the surface—so we can disinfect an entire large theater in under an hour.”
And while body temperature screening at events was initially considered too extreme, CrowdRX is now, “in an abundance of caution,” offering thermal imaging technology that powers “fever screen” services during ingress for major events, according to Fitzpatrick.
6. Reduce stress.
You’re likely aware that the measures taken to prevent the flu are the same ones recommended to prevent coronavirus infection: hand-washing with soap and water for 20 seconds several times a day, avoiding sick people, and coughing into your elbow. But Spero has another piece of advice: Decrease your stress.
“One area that doesn’t get talked about too much is that your immune system is like a machine that’s on steroids. It’s always fighting off infections,” says Spero. “So we need to get back to telling people to do the things that will improve your immune system. Like eat right, get sleep, do things to reduce your stress, whether it’s mindfulness or meditation. Stress really weakens your immune system, so those types of things you can do to reduce your stress are really important.”
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