How to Host a Conference in the COVID-19 New Normal

people attending an event during COVID

It’s no secret that events are big business for the corporate world. Pre-pandemic, the US trade show and exhibition industry generated over $100 billion. Why? Because events play an important role in business. They allow CEOs to raise their profile by delivering talks, companies to showcase new products, sales reps to reach new demographics, and professionals to network in their sector.

When we consider the breakneck speed at which the pandemic halted normal business activities, most operations were able to adapt to online or alternative formats. However, when it comes to events, there are just certain things that can’t be recreated online. Hosting a Zoom call with a colleague or business partner is one thing, but replacing the magic of networking with hundreds or even thousands of like-minded professionals is an entirely different ball game.

So, as we look towards the new normal in 2021, companies across industries are unsurprisingly eagerly awaiting the return of conferences and exhibitions. What’s more, these events are getting back on the agenda sooner than you think thanks to the progress made with the vaccination rollout and availability of ultra-high accuracy rapid tests.

If you’re thinking about hosting or participating in an event, below are considerations for developing safe, effective and authentic screening protocols as we enter the endemic stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How to Monitor Event Attendees’ Health During COVID-19

In order to get the sector back on its feet, organizers need to find ways to provide improved certainty to the businesses hosting events and for those attending. There are many approaches to providing best-in-class protocols to more effectively manage the health and safety of both attendees and supporting team members. At the same time organizers need to recognize there are a multitude of options that have been proven ineffective.

To start, many organizations begin with pre-event screening via a digital health survey in order to detect the potential of COVID-19 (e.g. have you been recently exposed? Are you vaccinated? Have you experienced fever or chills, cough, difficulty breathing, fatigue, etc.?) This can be done simply and affordably with flexible, customer centric, HIPAA compliant platforms like AllClear’s Mobile Health Management platform, allowing organizers to define and manage the patient health information (PHI) that your organization deems relevant in the context of your event setting.

In addition, recently-updated and still-in-flux rules on mask mandates for vaccinated individuals mean that it continues to be important to monitor and record the vaccination status of those who are planning on attending your event. This can also be managed simply and affordably by requiring event attendees to upload their vaccine cards to the same trusted, customer-centric and HIPAA compliant platform.

Once attendees arrive at the event, many incorporate further on-site health screening e.g. temperature checks, pulse, respiration, and blood pressure as well as monitoring for outward signs of nasal stuffiness, coughs etc.

The last and perhaps most important element of monitoring attendees’ health before a business event is by testing them for COVID-19 itself.

Early PCR tests for COVID-19 usually took several days to process. And we have learned that traditional and decades-old lateral-flow antigen tests are not able to deliver the accuracy required to provide event organizers and attendees with the necessary certainty. However, the technology has evolved and the process is now much quicker. For example, at AllClear HealthCare, our game-changing technology delivers PCR lab equivalent test results in just 12 minutes. With lightning-fast processing speeds like this, on-site screening at events is now feasible. Therefore, to help create a COVID-secure environment, a screening process should be considered as a priority for your operations team.

First up, you’ll need to analyze the expected number of attendees so that you can organize a testing provider that can manage the volume. If wait times go from minutes to hours because there are too many people trying to enter the venue, attendee satisfaction is likely to plummet.

It’s also important to consider that guests aren’t herded into the same waiting area while tests are processed. If one of those tests comes back positive and you’ve kept 100 attendees in a tightly packed waiting room, there’s a chance that the virus could transmit to others.

For both these reasons, it’s advisable to plan for staggered arrival times to control the flow of people entering the venue. These times are best booked by attendees using an online portal once attendees have organized their travel plans. Booking slots in 5-min intervals ensures organizers have a safe and seamless customer experience and avoid overcrowding and long wait times.

Not sure whether to carry out health monitoring and management practices at your business event? Contact us today to find out the best option for your needs. 

Promote Your Health Management Approach At Every Stage

Once you’ve got all the operational plans in place, it’s time to move on to sales and marketing. Even though there’s strong demand for events, attendees and speakers will still be cautious about attending as conferences re-open.

Your screening plans need to become an integral part of all your promotional materials for the event. By educating your audiences on how the process will work, what to expect at the venue, and the protocols you are deploying you will build confidence for your in-person event. This messaging can be promoted across social media, in brochures, and at the event website – just make sure that all the information is clear and consistent.

Transparent communication helps to ensure the process runs smoothly on the day, alleviates the potential for guest concerns, and boosts attendance in turn.

What About Vaccines?

You might be wondering why COVID-19 monitoring and management is even needed with vaccine rollouts worldwide. It’s a great question: If we’re vaccinated, why do events need to bother with health safety practices?

There are a few key reasons, and a number of unknowns, relating to why on-site monitoring and management are still essential:

  • The vaccine won’t be administered to everyone, whether that’s due to availability, health complications or personal choice.
  • No vaccine offers 100% protection
  • We don’t know how long vaccines work
  • New variants of COVID-19 may be more resilient to current vaccines

So, even with vaccines, rapid and accurate on-site screening for COVID-19 should still be considered in order to conduct the events as safely as possible.

The Bottom Line

Conferences, exhibitions and off-sites host hundreds of attendees each day, coming from all over. Without proper planning, such events run the risk of creating new outbreaks of COVID-19 and damaging efforts to accelerate the return of in-person events.

In order to minimize this risk, it’s essential for event organizers to monitor the health of those who will be attending. You can do this using a triple threat approach, which starts with health screening and vaccination status monitoring before testing attendees for COVID-19 itself.

When it comes to testing, the advent of certified mobile platforms, ultra-high accuracy tests, and the ability to process results in just minutes, offers new hope for the events industry. With the ability to navigate the new normal, on-site, organizers can screen all attendees without disrupting the agenda, and ensure COVID-19 stays off the guest list.

Are you planning a business event this year? Contact us to learn how our HIPAA compliant group testing service works.