Delta Variant and Physical Events - Cancellations as COVID Cases Rise

Has the COVID Delta Variant Sent the Events Industry into Limbo?

Given the daily uptick in the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant, medical experts are now warning people to be wary at large gatherings, regardless of vaccination.[1] More transmissible than Ebola, smallpox, and polio, and spreading as easily as chicken pox, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates Delta now accounts for 83% of known cases in the country and is contributing to higher case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths attributed to COVID-19.[2] These data points have prompted the CDC to re-highlight the role masks can play in slowing the spread of the virus, and the organization is again recommending Americans, fully vaccinated or not, mask up in public indoor spaces under certain circumstances.[3]

This reversal on masks has served as a tipping point, and following the CDC’s recommendation, Los Angeles County, the most populous in the United States, has again issued a mask mandate even among the vaccinated in indoor public spaces, followed by San Francisco and other California counties as well as states such as Louisiana.[4] Going one step further, New York City has announced it will require proof of coronavirus vaccinations for indoor venues such as restaurants, gyms, and entertainment facilities beginning August 16.[5]

 

Return to Work Plans on Hold

Employers too are re-visiting return-to-work plans.[6] Walmart reversed its policy and is now requiring all employees to wear masks in areas most affected by the Delta variant, and grocery chains Kroger and Publix are following suit. Ford is again mandating masks at its Missouri, Kentucky, and Florida facilities, and General Motors was reported as reinstating mask requirements at a Missouri plant.[7]

The response from Big Tech following the CDC’s recommendation was also quick. Twitter closed offices in New York and San Francisco that had only recently reopened, and Google delayed its return-to-office date for most employees from September to mid-October. Google and Facebook also said they would now require employees to be vaccinated before returning to in-office work, a requirement Twitter had already had in place.[8]

 

The Wave of Event Cancellations Due to the Delta Variant

Are mass event cancellations within the realm of possibility? With the Delta variant dominating daily headlines, marketing teams and event planners worldwide can’t help but watch the variant closely and wonder, “Are we going to have to go through another round of event cancellations?”  

Though currently hard to predict, mass in-person event cancellations aren’t entirely out of the question. Despite the availability of vaccines against COVID-19 infections, large-scale in-person events pose some inherent risks. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Sajid Chaudhary points out, “Even with the vaccine, people can get infected. They may not develop the severe disease that causes them to end up in the hospital, but once they get infected, they can spread it to other people.”[9]

Experts are therefore encouraging business leaders to err on the side of caution when it comes to employee travel, particularly to places where the COVID-19 infection risk is great. Predicts Jeff Levin-Scherz and Patricia Toro in The Harvard Business Review, “Recognizing the cost and time savings and environmental benefits of reduced travel, leaders are likely to continue to hold down their travel and expense budgets for the foreseeable future.”[10]

For trade shows that do take place, attendees should expect a much different experience than when traveling to past industry events. Some in-person events that have traditionally been held indoors may be moved outdoors, and handshakes will likely be replaced with elbow and fist bumps. There is a good chance masks will be required, and exhibitors could be discouraged from walking the show floor. Event registration processes too may undergo a revamp and now include screening questions, liability waivers, and a lanyard system that allows attendees to alert others to their comfort level regarding contact.

 

No Decision is Simple

The good news is that throughout the pandemic, employers, event planners, and venue providers have developed finely tuned strategies for mitigating infections. And characteristic of the pandemic experience, how event planners, employers and venue providers deploy these strategies will vary by industry and by region. States David Lewis, CEO of OperationsInc, a human resources consulting practice, “One size does not fit all, and no decision is simple.”[11]

 

Implementing a Virtual Component to In-Person Events

While everyone is hungry for in-person events to make a comeback, the Delta variant is forcing event planners to rethink event and meeting protocols. Not to mention, the overall meeting landscape may never be the same. However, it’s important to have a strategy with the right mix of both in-person and virtual elements to cover all grounds. The need for virtual meetings and events are prevalent, and the digital aspect to physical events will occupy a greater part in the industry than it has previously. Times of crisis lead to innovation, which is where the opportunity for hybrid events takes the stage. While in-person events will certainly be the most effective way to promote networking and relationship building, virtual events are essential to growth, reach, engagement, innovation, and more. Adding a virtual component to an in-person event will help to attract not only those who are unable to attend, but also those who would have never traveled to the event. The uncertainty of the Delta variant should not be a disruption in the events industry, but an opportunity to adapt and overcome.

To learn more about how 6Connex environments can increase event flexibility in an uncertain landscape, download our latest e-book: The Ultimate Guide to Hybrid Events.

 

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Sources:
[1] The Wall Street Journal - The Delta Variant, Covid-19 Symptoms and Vaccine Efficacy: What to Know
[2] The Wall Street Journal - Delta Variant Accounts for 83% of Known U.S. Covid-19 Cases
[3] The Washington Post - CDC urges vaccinated people in covid hot spots to resume wearing masks indoors
[4] Louisiana.gov - Office of the Governor
[5] The Washington Post - New York City to require proof of vaccination for indoor activities
[6][11] NPR - Back To The Office? Not Yet. Companies Scramble To Adjust To The Delta Variant
[7] Detroit Free Press - GM, UAW demand workers at Wentzville mask up again as COVID-19 cases rise
[8] NPR - Google And Facebook Mandate Vaccines For Employees At U.S. Offices
[9] Spectrum News - Vaccinated or not, Delta variant creates event planning concerns
[10] Harvard Business Review - The Delta Variant: How Companies Should Respond


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