CDC Meeting Turns COVID Super Spreader

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CDC covidAround 35 attendees at a recent CDC meeting turned up positive for COVID — more proof that COVID is still a thing, even if many don’t want to deal with COVID safety protocols anymore.

Just last week the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that COVID is no longer a global health emergency of public concern. In the U.S., the federal public health emergency is lifting as of May 11.

But, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found out, just because COVID is no longer considered a health emergency, that doesn’t mean it still isn’t a factor for group meetings and events. A week after CDC held its three-day, 2,000-attendee 2023 Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) Conference in Atlanta, about three dozen attendees reported they had contracted COVID. As reported in the Washington Post, “Attendees said many people at the gathering did not mask, socially distance or take other precautions that the CDC had recommended earlier in the pandemic.”

As Alanis Morissette would say, isn’t it ironic?

More to the point, isn’t it a reminder that, as sick of the expense and hassle of COVID precautions as most meeting organizers and their attendees are — and despite U.S. reported cases of the virus falling to their lowest levels in two years — COVID still is on track to be one of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. this year? And even though the virus is apparently on the wane, a panel of virologists recently warned the White House that there’s a 20% to 40% chance of a new outbreak within the next two years that could wreak Omicron-like havoc in the U.S. and be immune to current vaccines and treatments.

Amanda Schleede
Amanda Schleede, CEO, Attend Safe

While many event organizers, at least anecdotally, have dropped all COVID-related precautions, business is still brisk for Attend Safe, which provides an array of virtual verification and on-site COVID-related risk-mitigation services, says CEO Amanda Schleede. “I would say about half are saying it’s over, or it’s just the flu,” she says, citing the recent CDC meeting and another recent 35,000-attendee healthcare-related convention that had no COVID-related protocols in place. Some argue that, at this point in the pandemic, you just have to accept that “if you look for COVID anywhere, you’ll find it everywhere,” that “community outbreak harms don’t lead to the same harms they used to,” and the “the benefits of gathering now outweigh the risks.”

While most event organizers would agree with the latter, they don’t agree that it’s not still worth the effort and cost to mitigate the COVID risks. As Schleede says, “The other half are saying, ‘We don’t want anyone to die’” after catching COVID at an event. Just because the federal funding for COVID is over doesn’t mean COVID is over. COVID is not over. There’s still a need for COVID risk mitigation.”

“I do think it’s pretty ironic that the CDC, the organization that we look to for advice about the pandemic, apparently didn’t do anything to keep their attendees safe from the pandemic,” she adds. And the cases from the CDC meeting highlights the potential for bad PR. While it is especially bad for the CDC, but being a super spreader event is not a good look for any event. “Do you want to do nothing and take that risk, or do you want to put the health of your attendees front and center?” she says.

Yes, if you do the latter it’s more than likely at least some attendees may think it’s unnecessary or overly burdensome to keep COVID protocols in place, but “My response to those people is that we’re doing this to keep you, and everyone else here, safe by identifying and removing people who are COVID-positive — even those who are asymptomatic but could still spread it — from the rest of the group,” Schleede says. “And as the event organizer, you don’t want the top 10% of your sales team at an incentive to come back and have to be out of work for five or 10 days because they have COVID. That three- or four-day event could have a two- or three-week impact on your business.”

Among the services she says are still in high demand for Attend Safe customers are pre-event and on-site testing and management of proof of vaccination.

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