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Event organizers step up sanitation, communication plans to allay coronavirus concerns

More hand-sanitizing stations, cleaning staff and medical stations at meetings and trade shows; some groups encouraging a 'no handshake' policy

No handshakesButtons and stickers with this image will be distributed at CONEXPO-CON/AGG to encourage the "no handshake" policy.

March 3, 2020
By Kathryn Walson

For many associations, the show will go on—with or without handshakes.

Event organizers are ramping up communication with exhibitors and attendees about the coronavirus, including detailed information about the steps being taken to keep these large gatherings safe from spreading the disease.  

More than 130,000 people are expected to participate in CONEXPO-CON/AGG, a construction trade show happening March 10-14 in Las Vegas. According to the website for the event, which is held every three years, there have been no major exhibit cancellations and advance registration is running ahead of 2017.

But show management is “providing heightened levels of cleanliness” with additional hand sanitizers and more staff to disinfect common areas and especially surfaces such as keyboards and door handles. Management is also encouraging a “no handshake” policy onsite, even providing buttons and stickers with the words “no offense, just makes sense” and a slash through an image of shaking hands.

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers, National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association and Associated General Contractors of America are sponsors of the show.  

As coronavirus spreads around the world and the U.S., the impact on meetings is rapidly evolving. Several high-profile events have been canceled, including the American Physical Society’s annual meeting just 36 hours before it was to start on March 2. Some participants had already flown in to Denver from around the world.

According to a statement on APS’ website, the “decision to cancel was based on the latest scientific data being reported, and the fact that a large number of attendees at this meeting are coming from outside the U.S., including countries where the CDC upgraded its warning to level 3 as recently as Saturday, February 29.”

Other cancellations or postponements were announced after attendees and exhibitors could no longer attend.  

The International Housewares Association on March 2 canceled its Inspired Home Show that had been scheduled for March 14-17 in Chicago. It was expected to draw 60,000 people, with about 40% of these attendees coming from other countries. The trade show’s international section was eliminated in February when organizers determined that 500 exhibitors, mainly from China, could no longer attend due to the ban on people traveling from China.

“We’ve been monitoring it for several weeks. As the disease has spread and companies have said they wouldn’t allow travel, our board decided that it was in the best interest of the industry to cancel the show,” IHA spokesperson Debbie Teschke told CEO Update.  

The Natural Products Expo West 2020, scheduled for March 3-7 in Anaheim, Calif., has been postponed.

New Hope Network, the company producing the show, said in a statement: “It is now clear, despite continued advice from local government and health authorities that the City of Anaheim remains open, that the majority of our Community want the show, but they do not want it now.”

Some of the many groups going forward with their events have been upfront about the situation and the precautions they are taking. They include:

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’s Global Health Conference & Exhibition starts March 9 in Orlando, and President Donald Trump is scheduled to speak the first day.

An external panel of medical professionals is monitoring the outbreak to advise HIMSS in its decision-making, said Karen Groppe, HIMMS’ senior director of strategic communications. She said the group is updating members through website posts and emails and communicating daily with exhibitors.

The American Academy of Dermatology’s annual meeting is scheduled for March 20-24 in Denver. In addition to website and email notification, AAD will communicate any change in meeting status through its annual meeting app.  

The American Chemical Society’s National Meeting & Expo, March 22-26 in Philadelphia, is allowing virtual presentations for those unable to travel for coronavirus-related issues.

“In these cases, per ACS bylaws, presenters would still need to purchase a one-day registration in order to be published,” according to a statement on the event website.

“If you are feeling feverish, please exercise common sense and do not come to the ACS meeting that day. If appropriate, get medical attention. In all situations, follow best practices to limit the transmission of germs such as coughing and sneezing into your elbow, using hand sanitizer, thoroughly washing of hands and cleaning of surfaces.”

ACS is also discouraging handshaking, as well as exchanging business cards.

The National Association of Broadcasters’ show is proceeding as planned for April 18-22 in Las Vegas.  A statement on the NAB Show website says attendee registrations are on pace with normal year-over-year patterns, and there have not been any unusual cancellations by exhibitors.  

“NAB Show is committed to ensuring our response during this challenging time is responsibly based in facts, not driven by fear,” the statement said. “We continue to closely review all guidance from global, federal and local health authorities to implement what is needed for the good of our show community and the good of our industry.”