There is no magic elixir to absolutely protect attendees from fast-spreading novel coronaviruses. But strategic measures executed professionally are a lot more effective than some of the most common solutions being promoted right now.
That is the real talk delivered by Robert Bronstein and John Harris, partners behind Prevent, a Lynchburg, Virginia, risk mitigation company created to help meeting professionals cross the unknown to return to meeting responsibly. What does work, they say, is layering safety measures based on the time, place and type of group. What doesn’t work might surprise you.
The pair sat down with Smart Meetings to talk about best practices for mitigation and what not to do.
Top of the list of things seen frequently that don’t actually keep attendees safer: temperature reading guns. “A lot of the equipment out there is total B.S.,” said Bronstein.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t recommend thermal screening as one of the layers of screening, but it has to be done correctly by trained personnel with FDA-approved camera systems that report accurately.
The tear duct is actually the most precise place to measure, he explained. The forehead is the least valid measurement and a lot of the guns pushed quickly into the market are not sensitive enough to give a meaningful reading.
Symptom and temperature screening also fall short in the face of asymptomatic people who can still spread the disease.
Wearing N95 masks can protect attendees, Bronstein says, but only if they are worn continuously. “The reality is that people are getting tired of wearing masks,” he observed. And meeting professionals are often hesitant to take on the role of mask-police.
Still, Harris suggests distributing protective masks (branded ideally) as a way to stress the importance of following safety protocols.
Vaccinations were the step that was going to save F2F events at the beginning of 2021, but they have proven to be less than 100 percent effective, especially when events mix vaccinated and unvaccinated attendees. “Requiring vaccinations may have been fine the early days, but with so many breakthrough cases now, it is seen more as a measure to minimize symptoms,” Harris said.
While requiring boosters can help ensure attendees are as protected as possible, it can be a limiting factor on attendance, he cautioned.
Whatever the planner decides will be required, Harris stressed the importance of outsourcing the management of vaccine data collection, logging and screening for privacy reasons. Apps streamline the collection and verification of status while preserving medical privacy.
The most certain way to create a safe, productive space is testing, Bronstein said. Requiring testing on-site or prior to arrival through a PCR test layered with other measures such as cleaning, enhanced air filtration, masks and vaccines is the most sure-fire solution, he said.
The pair started their company after their music careers were cut short by the flattening of the curve that required cancelling concerts. Now they are dedicated to helping events move forward regardless of what variant pops up next. “Just because Omicron is trending downward doesn’t mean it is time to let your guard down,” said Bronstein. “We have to continue to do the right thing.”
He compared safety measures now being put in place such as enhanced air filtration to the increased airport security that is still happening 20 years after the 9-11 attack.
“We have learned a lot of lessons,” said Harris. “We have learned how to protect people without shutting everything down. We have learned resiliency.”
One of the changes the pair hope will stick: The tolerance for people coming to work sick. “No more badge of honor for coming to the office coughing through the day,” Bronstein said.