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CDC's Guide to Event Planning Amid the Coronavirus

Events that host at-risk people should consider canceling, postponing, or limiting in-person attendance.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released interim guidance for event planners amidst the novel coronavirus outbreak.

However, the agency noted that these guidelines were not meant to inform decisions about schools or childcare settings, institutions of higher education, or community- and faith-based organizations.

Instead, these recommendations focus on either planned or spontaneous conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies. These mass gatherings, the CDC said, typically include a large number of people that could strain the local community hosting the event if they needed response resources.

The priority should be the safety of those attending, particularly if any mass gatherings are anticipated to host vulnerable populations such as older adults or those with underlying medical conditions.

One of the most important things event planners can do to mitigate this outbreak is to continually assess whether to postpone, cancel, or significantly reduce the number of attendees at the mass gathering. Some considerations for this option include the density of attendees within the confined area, the potential economic impact to those involved, and the level of transmission among attendees and those they could spread the virus to when they return home.

“To better understand the level of community transmission in your community (and in the communities from which your attendees will be traveling), consult with your local and/or state public health department,” the CDC said.

If there is a substantial risk for community transmission, the CDC recommends canceling the event. If there is minimal to moderate risk for community transmission, consider canceling if the event hosts more than 250 people; additionally, if it includes more than 10 people at high risk, cancel the event, they suggest.

The CDC also outlined steps for organizers if they ultimately decide to proceed with their mass gathering. Of course, these steps depend on the type of event it is, the demographics, complexity of event operations, and types of on-site services available.

First, planners should review existing emergency operation plans for the venue as well as meet with the emergency operations coordinator at the venue. Planners can also establish relationships with key community partners and stakeholders to participate in preparedness activities addressing coronavirus outbreak scenarios.

Prevention strategies should be a part of this emergency operation plan. Event planners should promote daily practice of preventative actions, such as staying home when sick, covering coughs or sneezes, washing hands, avoiding touching the face, eyes, nose and mouth, and cleaning frequently touched surfaces.

Planners were specifically asked to note that handshakes and high-fives are often exchanged at mass gatherings, including sports events. This action should be discouraged via signage and resources due to the potential transmission of the coronavirus.

Event staff and participants should be supplied with prevention supplies such as hand sanitizer, tissues, trash baskets, disposable facemasks, and cleaners and disinfectants, the CDC continued. Facemasks should only be used if someone becomes sick at the event, and that ill person should immediately be isolated from other healthy staff and participants at the event.

Organizers should also plan for staff absences if members become sick and implement flexible staff attendance and sick-leave policies. They should also consider alternatives for staff who are at increased risk for complications from coronavirus, the CDC said.

Event organizers should also develop refund policies for participants and limit in-person contact. It may be useful to promote messages that discourage attendance from people who are sick. No matter what, stay informed about the situation from local public health officials and disseminate relevant information to stakeholders and attendees in a timely manner.

“Remember, a COVID-19 outbreak could last for a long time,” the CDC said. “When public health officials determine that the outbreak has ended in your local community, work with them to identify criteria for scaling back COVID-19 prevention actions at your events. Base the criteria on slowing of the outbreak in your local area. If your events were cancelled, work with your venues to reschedule your events.”

The agency recommended taking follow-up steps after the coronavirus outbreak concluded, which involve discussion of lessons learned from the event to adapt future plans, maintain and expand planning teams, and participate in community-wide emergency preparedness activities.

On March 25, 2020, at 6PM ET, Contagion® is hosting a live CME webinar on what clinicians need to know amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Register here.