During 2020, the world experienced a rapid change to virtual settings to conduct business during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although virtual meetings and events facilitated the ongoing conduct of business, professional continuing education, and networking, the challenges of 2020 caused significant hardships for millions of American citizens and for the U.S. economy. As the nation reopens following the first year of the pandemic, Americans are eager for a return to their pre-pandemic routines. For many, that includes business travel. It is important to recognize the value that professional meetings and events (PMEs) provided prior to the outbreak and return to them as safely as possible to enhance career and occupational well-being as well as to stimulate business and propel the economy forward. PMEs employ millions of Americans; many of these people are unemployed or have been working significantly less throughout the pandemic. Companies and organizations have continued to hold virtual meetings and events, which emphasizes the importance for carrying on their work. Whether through re-energizing employees and networking, informing healthcare providers about new and innovative treatments and practices, or receiving guidance and best practice strategies from organizations, PMEs are an integral part of business and organizational operations.
Several in-person PMEs have started to resume; examples are provided further in this paper. These events have been reported to have been organized so that colleagues are able to safely connect with one another face-to-face and build stronger and more meaningful business relationships. Events provide social and economic benefits that must be balanced with public health safety considerations considering the relaxation of protective measures nation-wide in a context in which the U.S. is striving to vaccinate more of the population and outbreaks worldwide remain a threat. Organizers seeking to put together large-scale events must consider science-based public health recommendations so that they do not unintentionally create super- spreader opportunities, especially among unvaccinated attendees.
As COVID-19 transmission rates continue to decline and vaccination is widely available, a re-evaluation of risk mitigation measures is warranted to ensure the public health response to the pandemic continues to be relevant to the conditions on the ground — including holding PMEs based on best evidence to more accurately reflect the risk posed by such events. We now know that ventilation systems and facial coverings2 play an impactful role in preventing the spread of the virus along with physical distancing in most circumstances.3 Even while the CDC has lifted restrictions for fully vaccinated people,4 it continues to express concern about large gatherings.5 The CDC defines large gatherings as events that bring together many people from multiple households in a private or public space. Large gatherings are often planned events with a large number of guests and invitations. They sometimes involve lodging, event staff, security, tickets, and long-distance travel. The CDC’s large events guidance applies to events such as conferences, trade shows, sporting events, festivals, concerts, weddings, or parties. While it is possible to control some mitigation factors at events as noted above, PMEs have the additional advantage of being structured and well-organized large gatherings where mitigation factors can be enforced to protect the health and safety of those in attendance.