World Health Organization Publishes Coronavirus Event-Planning Guide

As concern about the coronavirus grows, the World Health Organization recently released a report with recommendations about keeping attendees safe at large events.

Attendee health and safety are always top of mind for meeting professionals. However, with people worldwide growing increasingly concerned about the spread and impact of coronavirus (COVID-19), many organizers are weighing whether they should still hold their conferences as planned—or if cancellation or postponement is the better option.

Many factors go into making that decision, but for organizations that decide to hold their event as planned, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a helpful resource on February 14.

Key Planning Recommendations for Mass Gatherings in the Context of the Current COVID-19 Outbreak” is a nine-page document that offers both general and coronavirus-specific considerations for organizers hosting large events.

The more general recommendations include, for example, establishing contact with local and national public health authorities and providing attendees with information on  proper hand hygiene and coughing etiquette and how to access local healthcare if they need it.

In context of coronavirus specifically, the report has several recommendations. Among them: that planners consider crowd density and venue layout; the number of participants coming from countries or areas affected by the COVID-19 outbreak within 14 days of their event; and the age of attendees, since the elderly seem to be more affected.

In addition, the document outlines what to do if meeting attendees exhibit symptoms consistent with the virus during the event. “Organizers need to consider where any participant who becomes unwell with COVID-19 symptoms will be treated and how they will be transported to [a] treatment facility,” WHO advises. The report also suggests that organizers may need to provide isolation facilities at the venue for participants who develop symptoms and must wait for a health assessment.

Planners also need to consider the longer-term impacts if an attendee falls ill. “Participants at events sometimes expect they will be returned to their home country for medical treatment rather than be treated in the host country, which isn’t possible for anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 illness,” WHO says.

Several associations with conferences coming up in the next few months have already taken some of these precautions to ensure a safe and productive onsite experience for attendees. Last week, the National Association of Broadcasters affirmed that its April 2020 NAB Show will take place in Las Vegas as planned and announced it will devote additional resources to coronavirus concerns.

“While the NAB stands firm in its commitment to hold the convention as planned, the health and safety of attendees and participants are NAB’s top priority,” the organization said in a press release. “To that end, NAB is dedicated to providing rapid responses and assistance in support of the global NAB Show community’s participation plans.”

NAB’s event management team launched a resource page for attendees and announced that it is following all guidance and safety measures issued by WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; making sure that medical care is readily accessible to address immediate health concerns; and working with the convention center, airport, and hotels to coordinate appropriate safety procedures.

The International Communication Association is taking similar measures for its annual conference, which is scheduled to take place in May in Australia. “ICA is not in a position to make medical decisions in a vacuum, and our policy will be guided by the practical necessity of what is allowed by the Australian government which is, in turn, advised by the World Health Organization as the situation evolves,” ICA said in a press release.

What additional precautions has your association taken related to participant health and safety due to coronavirus? Please share in the comments.

(Kameleon007/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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