Meeting professionals leading the way back to the convention center are increasingly finding themselves between a pandemic and a hard decision. Whether ‘tis better to brave the slings and arrows of medical data privacy and ask people if they have been vaccinated or welcome everyone and suffer the possibility of infecting someone with a possibly deadly disease (to borrow a framework from Shakespeare)?
As Anh Nguyen, head of community engagement at the serendipitous networking platform twine pointed out in her guest post, “Jury, Judge or…Event Planner?” that “the traditional duty of care is not as clear cut as it was in years past. “As event planners, we’ve always taken responsibility for the safety and security of our attendees while they were in our care. Traditionally, this included clear emergency and evacuation procedures, what to do if the building was on fire, or making sure that special needs and requirements were looked after. It is universally accepted that if the building is on fire, everyone wants to get out, and it was our job as event professionals to have a plan in place for that. But what happens if not everyone wants out of the fire? Or if the understanding of the fire isn’t a universal one?”
On the heels of a rousing #twineTalks on the subject, Smart Meetings and twine joined forces for a Twitter Chat using the hashtag #TheEventVaxDebate on June 1 to find out how meeting professionals are handling the vaccine requirement conundrum.
The conversation started out by setting a legal foundation for what is allowed and how to manage risk. “Do you think masks/no masks, vaccines/non-vaxed will or should be an addendum on contracts with venues? Or is it location based, and a mutual understanding between venue and planner?” was an early question.
Do you think masks/no masks, vaccines/non-vaxxed will or should be an addendum on contracts with venues? Or is it location based, and a mutual understanding between venue and planner?#TheEventVaxDebate
— Jennifer Cox (@jicox) June 1, 2021
While Attorney John S. Foster from Foster, Jensen & Gulley has suggested in the past that hotel protocols and policies for Covid-19 prevention be included in contract clauses, the fact that “prevention” is impossible made following stringent regulations even more pressing.
One option endorsed was the default of assuming no one is vaccinated and putting protocols in place accordingly since people might lie about vaccine status. “As with everything in life, rules/ regulations are in place to address the lowest common denominator.”
Yes, one of the complicated things about events is no matter what protocols or rules you have in place, the trust is still with the attendees to follow them, which might not be what happens. Assuming no one is vaccinated seems like a safe approach. #TheEventVaxDebate
— Anh Nguyen, CMP (@atnguyen) June 1, 2021
Attorney Chantal Bernier, leading the Privacy and Cybersecurity Practice at Dentons Canada, who spoke at the preceding #twineTalks, reminded us of our obligations under privacy law to minimize the collection of personal information even in the context of protecting public health. One way to achieve this is to provide options to individuals as to the personal information they are willing to share. In the context of Covid- 19, three options for personal information to disclose can be offered: vaccination status, or evidence of a recent negative test result or proof of having recovered from Covid-19. This will also address claims of discrimination against individuals who refuse to or cannot get vaccinated while broadening the options for personal information to disclose, preserving a greater level of individual choice.
During this transition time, a “better safe” option was suggested as prudent.
The long and short of it for me, is we are at a tipping point so asking for either proof or negative test is inclusive while being responsible. #TheEventVaxDebate
— David T. Stevens® (@davidTstevens) June 1, 2021
DIY vs. Third-Party Expertise
When asked who is executing the safety plan, some pointed to making attendees responsible for their actions. A safety pledge and working with the CVB to determine relevant local regulations seemed to be the norm.
We have created a safety pledge regarding our events and meetings. We share what we are doing, and we work with the venue and the CVB regarding the state's requirements. #TheEventVaxDebate #eventprofs
— DetailsQuinn (@DetailsQuinn) June 1, 2021
Having health and safety attendants onsite is one way to reduce the burden on the planner and venue staff. Consultants can also help with data safety issues.
From distance monitoring, contact-tracing bracelets to thermal monitors and health apps, technology can take some of the work out of screening.
And polling attendees prior to the event about their comfort level could help planners understand what they need to provide to help people make decisions about joining IRL.
When the decision time comes, cost may end up being the determining factor as availability and price of travel could be prohibitive for some.
And we don't know what airline schedules and routes will look like and whether fares will be affordable for those who want to attend. #TheEventVaxDebate
— Janet Maslin (@ConferenceJanet) June 1, 2021
Is limiting access to those who are vaccinated discrimination? On this point, Chantal Bernier clarifies that discrimination truly results from a distinction that is both arbitrary and hostile to a group. Where it is demonstrably justified in the pursuit of the public interest, the distinction may be legitimate. In the context of protecting against the spread of Covid-19, banning unvaccinated people from events may not constitute discrimination. However, since other forms of protection exist, such as requiring evidence of a negative Covid-19 test or of having recovered from Covid-19, legally it would be preferable to avoid banning unvaccinated people by opening the event to those unvaccinated who can demonstrate to be Covid-free or immune through previous infection.
The legal test is “What is demonstrably necessary to protect public health?” Any measure that is demonstrably necessary is likely to be found on the right side of the law both in relation to privacy and protection from discrimination.
Welcome, Janet! I thought her points around what qualifies as discrimination were so helpful. That discrimination only happens when it's arbitrary and hostile, so banning unvaccinated people from events is not technically discrimination. #TheEventVaxDebate
— Anh Nguyen, CMP (@atnguyen) June 1, 2021
Even if people are self-segregating into “cliques” of those who are “open to anything”, “cautious until vaccinated” or “refuse to get vaccinated and therefore don’t come”, are meeting professionals limiting who can participate in events by even asking the vaccination question?
Offering hybrid meeting options may be one way to play all the options, be inclusive and safe.
And on the bright side, Covid has provided a common experience people can talk about when they are together.