Julie Ann Schmidt is president of Lithium Logistics Group, a full-service MICE agency based in Minnesota. With more than 25 years of experience in the event industry, she has recently become a COVID-19 expert, and Certified COVID-19 Compliance Officer, and has served on national and federal COVID-19 task forces. She trains planners on how to get back to live meetings and other COVID topics. For more information, visit lilogisticsreg.voicehive.com.
As we come out of the fog of COVID-19 shutdowns and start to get back to live meetings, you might be asking yourself: “How do I do my job post COVID-19?” As planners, our roles are changing, and the changes fall into two categories: The first is how we change the way we have done things in the past, and the second is what are the new things we have to learn?
The most basic change in how we will plan will be reacting to the changes at the venues. Each state is different in what its new restrictions are, but you can count on room capacities to be adjusted and room sets to be affected. For example, only having four people at a round in the beginning, as we work our way back up to eight or 10. We also need to think about how we manage flow in and out of the room and around our space to maintain social distancing. At a basic level, this will look like one set of doors for entry into a room and one set of doors for an exit; and at a more detailed level, this can include rope and stations to direct flow through public spaces outside the meeting room.
New Discussions to Have
Conversations with our catering team will also look different. In the past, if we selected a buffet off the menus, you already knew how that would be presented. Now, we need to ask how items will be served and presented. Each hotel is different in how they’re presenting and serving their menus, but they all are being creative and safe. We planners have to remember that the venue is also dealing with COVID restrictions that limit their flexibility. In the past, if you asked your banquet captain to add 30 more plates to a buffet just a few hours before lunch, they could make it happen. That might not be possible in the current environment.
As we move through the planning process and work with our vendors, we need to ask additional questions. The first being: What is new or different that I need to know about? The answer will be different for each vendor. Your production vendor might say you need more microphones to allow for cleaning or recommend that you increase the number of speakers to the sound system to accommodate a larger space. Your registration vendor might recommend adding two more stations and sneeze guards to your plan. Everyone is doing everything just a bit differently, and we need to keep asking questions as we plan.
Create a COVID-19 Protocol
As we start to communicate with our attendees, we will be adding some additional layers to our old plans. We need to make sure we are giving our attendees all the information about how we are going to keep them safe so they feel comfortable to travel to our event. This includes what the hotel or venue is doing differently to keep them safe, and what the organization is doing differently to keep them safe. But we also want to let them know how the meeting or event will be different from the past. We will have a more successful event if we set the right expectations before they arrive.
But what do you have to add to your planning that you never did before? Fundamentally, you need to have a COVID Protocol document that contains all the details on how you are addressing such things as cleaning, screening, testing, contact tracing and reporting.
Cleaning will include what the venue is doing to clean your meeting rooms, public space and hotel rooms, and what you are doing to supplement that if at all. The CDC recommends cleaning high-traffic areas three times a day. But if you have 200 people go through your registration area in two hours, you might be wiping it down every 30 minutes. There are no hard or fast rules here as each program is unique.
Screening and testing are also new elements we will include in our protocol document. Screening is used to eliminate anyone who might be COVID positive from attending your event, whereas testing is used to remove someone who is COVID positive from your event. Screening can include temperature checks, screening questionnaires or oxygen meter readings. The CDC states that a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher is a fever, and the Mayo clinic says 95 to 100 is a good oxygen reading, and that below 90 is considered low. If you choose to do screening at your event, you also need to decide if you will do secondary screening, what that entails and what your thresholds are.
Testing and Tracking Technology
Testing might be part of your protocol. Hiring a professional medical testing firm to administer nasal swabs and rapid testing might be necessary for your company from a security point of view. Some groups choose to test everyone coming in, and some choose to only have it as part of their secondary screening process.
Contract tracing is how we inform our attendees if they had contact with someone who tested positive. If an attendee informs us that they have tested positive, we can use our registration list to inform checked-in attendees that they may have had contact with someone who has tested positive. The CDC defines contact as 6 feet or less for 15 minutes or more.
Your organization may want to do more precise contract tracing. If you have 300 people at your event and one person tests positive, telling only 15 people that they had a contact of 6 feet or less for 15 minutes or more might be of value to you. The added expense of using tracking technology might be less expensive than the bad press of several people getting sick.
The two main tracking technologies are phone apps and BLE Bluetooth tracker fobs. Phone apps run about $5-$10 per person, and Bluetooth runs about $10-$20 per person. These technologies allow you to know within minutes with whom the COVID-positive person was in close contact, and be able to inform only those who have a potential risk.
As we move through the next 12 to 24 months, what we can do and what we need to do will change and evolve, but we will come through the other side as better planners. C&IT