Dr. Soumi Eachempati
How can organizations avoid having a superspreader event?
Updated: Jul 21, 2022
With COVID hospitalizations and deaths rising steadily over the past two months, event safety has become under scrutiny. Recent events like the Gridiron Club Dinner and the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM) physicians’ convention have shown that all groups could be contributing to the unwanted spread of COVID cases. Going forward, more gatherings of all sizes could become superspreader events due to the presence of more contagious BA.5 strains of coronavirus in much of the United States.
These types of untoward events could threaten organizations by directly harming employees and leading to lost productivity at a time when talent has become harder to replace. Other physical morbidities could endanger clients and visitors secondarily, the families and domestic contracts of all who may have been infected or exposed to COVID. A larger superspreader event could result in unwanted press, brand destruction, financial loss, or even litigation. Knowledge of these situations could lead to a fear of COVID for some segments of the population and could limit future event attendance or even hesitancy at fulfilling in-person duties at the workplace.
To alleviate these concerns, event planners will need to make these gatherings as safe as possible. They will face challenges as excessive precautions may be perceived as unnecessary and be met with resistance. They can make some simple principles base the rules on the organizational need and community risk as well as the anticipated closeness of the interactions there. They should begin by focusing on vaccination status, surveillance testing, and communication with event participants. As a general rule, they should always consider the potential damage an event could create.
Being fully vaccinated against COVID and up to date on booster shots remains a very important consideration for COVID safety. Even though these shots may not prevent infection with a new Omicron variant, they have been proven to decrease mortality among unvaccinated individuals who have illnesses with COVID. No organization would want to have a death or even serious hospitalization occur from an event that the organization held or sponsored. To minimize the chances of this potential calamity, they should consider the importance of requiring vaccinations even for their event participants.
Depending on the level of COVID infection rates in the communities of the organization or its participants, event organizers might need to consider surveillance testing for COVID prior to or during the event. Importantly, not all meetings within a larger gathering might need surveillance testing. For example, a board meeting at a company event might benefit from surveillance testing but not a large lecture at a spacious well-ventilated convention hall.
Communication with participants going to events has become very important. Due to the changing rules and geographic separation of many participants, event organizers will have challenges assessing risk and communicating safety rules prior. Different events at the same time at different locales may need specific rules for optimal safety.
The ability to communicate with participants after events may also be necessary. Cases of COVID may emerge during the event or shortly thereafter. For the safety of the participants and their potential contacts, they should be made aware if they were exposed to COVID at the events.
Events can be done safely in the pandemic era. Not acknowledging times when COVID can threaten organizations or vulnerable populations will only perpetuate the potential damage created by the pandemic. Strong safety plans will assure will lead to a more successful event for all.