COVID-19 cases are rapidly rising due to the transmissibility of the Delta variant, and changes to the spring and summer reopening are happening.1 For example, the CDC has recommended indoor masking for all children attending in-person school,2 and workplaces and universities are requiring vaccination.3,4
How will this COVID uptick affect optometry’s fall meetings?
Vision Expo West
The first national fall meeting on the calendar is Vision Expo West. It will still take place in person in Las Vegas September 22-25, 2021.
“We are committed to running the event in person,” says Ashley Mills, CEO of The Vision Council. “Las Vegas isn’t going to close.”
Meeting planners are working closely on attendee safety with officials from the state of Nevada, the city of Las Vegas, Sands Expo and Convention Center, and partner hotels. Attendees will be required to wear masks indoors.
Mills says that more restrictions may be put in place, and meeting planners remain flexible on safety guidance.
“The governor issued a mask mandate across the state,” she says. “So that means that we will be requiring face coverings at the show. They are required in the casinos, the hotels, and the show. It’s a small sacrifice to help us stay safe.”
Mills says that numbers for meeting attendance are looking good.
“Hotel pickup is strong, which is a leading indicator,” she says.
She suggests that potential attendees book their hotel rooms as soon as possible.
“There is a lot of be excited about,” Mills says. “We are planning events, and our partners are planning events. I’m not pretending that we don’t still have this pandemic—we are learning how to work with it and live with it and still have a robust in-person event. We are going to find our way as an industry altogether.”
In addition, a virtual component of the meeting will be taking place.
“From a way of the world perspective and the state of how our members and consumers do business, online is part of the equation,” she says. “We had always wanted to have a hybrid event which gave more people access. That remains in place. The virtual portion at Vision Expo East in June wasn’t just a short-term COVID situation, it’s part of our long-term vision of how we engage. It will always be part of our business going forward.”
The next fall meeting scheduled is the American Academy of Optometry’s annual meeting in Boston, November 3-6, 2021.
Currently, the Academy meeting is still taking place in person, but much can change between now and November.
Says Academy CEO Peter Scott: “So far we haven’t heard anything to indicate that we wouldn’t be a go for November. We have a portfolio of options to ensure the safety and wellness of attendees, staff, and the board.”
Academy staff are closely watching happenings in Boston’s Suffolk County, Massachusetts.
“We have had contingency plans and mirrored Suffolk County on its reopening,” he says. “We are looking at the CDC, Suffolk, and the state of Massachusetts and where they are with masked gatherings. For any big group, it’s a lot of money in contracts—if you walk away you still owe the money. We are working with convention bureau and public health officials, so it will be a collaborative effort to make that call.”
Scott says the Academy board has a meeting scheduled for Saturday, August 14, 2021, when options will continue to be discussed. The board will decide in the coming weeks on early- and late-stage triggers for meeting changes.
“We are looking at a wide array of things, from nothing to shutting it down,” he says.
Options for consideration include on-site COVID testing, masking, social distancing, and requiring vaccinations.
Scott says the Academy is working with epidemiological modeling company Epistemix to better understand how to keep attenddes safe.
"This company consults with the CDC and WHO," he says. "The company will look at room capacities, projected attendance, how people will move about the building, and how long they’ll be in there, plus demographic information about attendee ZIP code and age. We will get a dashboard to come up with the best possible way to structure the meeting to keep everyone safe."
Scott says that currently the city of Boston and the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center have an indoor mask mandate.
"It’s in place today, but will it be in place in November? I don’t know," he says.
The Academy also plans to provide rapid and PCR COVID-19 tests to anyone who wants them, and registration refunds will be available if attendees need to cancel for COVID-related reasons.
Related: Academy 2020’s meeting goes virtual
The Academy will provide a virtual meeting opportunity as well, called the Best of the Academy, which will take place in early December. Scott says the virtual meeting cannot take place at the same time as the live event due to availability of internal resources to produce a simulcast as well as time required to compile results after the Boston event ends.
The Best of the Academy will offer about 20 hours of CE and will take place on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with a single track from those that rated the best from the live event in Boston.
“We took away a lot of learnings from Academy At Home,” Scott says. “I believe virtual or hybrid will be an ongoing option moving forward, especially if we look at international attendance even without the pandemic. It costs a lot to travel to the United States with airfare and hotel. To serve our membership and our profession, virtual options have to be available.”
1. Trends in number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the US reported to CDC, by state/territory. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated August 10, 2021. Accessed August 12, 2021. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#trends_dailytrendscases
2. Guidance for COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated August 5, 2021. Accessed August 12, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/k-12-guidance.html
3. Mendez A. These companies are requiring employees get vaccinated. LA Times. August 7, 2021. Accessed August 12, 2021. https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2021-08-07/list-employers-with-covid-19-vaccine-mandates
4. Thompson A, O’Leary B. Here’s a list of colleges that require students or employees to be vaccinated against COVID. Chronicle Higher Ed. August 11, 2021. Accessed August 12, 2021.