The ‘Musts’ To Make Meet­ings Safer In The Age Of COVID-19


Large cor­po­rate meet­ings and in­dus­try events, so much a part of the Amer­i­can busi­ness ecosys­tem, re­main on hold, have been post­poned, or have been can­celled al­to­gether. When they will hap­pen again is any­body’s guess.

COVID-19’s spikes in many states have prompted pauses and roll­backs to busi­ness re-open­ings and put large gath­er­ings far­ther into the fu­ture. But at the same time, the un­cer­tainty gives event plan­ners and busi­ness lead­ers more time to learn how they can pro­tect and mon­i­tor the health of large num­bers of peo­ple when it is deemed safer to hold such events.

By na­ture, travel and mass gath­er­ings at con­fer­ence cen­ters or ho­tels are high­risk for get­ting sick. The ul­tra-con­ta­gious coro­n­avirus, re­sult­ing in a world-wide pan­demic that now finds the U.S. as the epi­cen­ter, con­tin­u­ally re­minds us that there is no de­fin­i­tive play­book to com­bat it. And there is a pal­pa­ble anx­i­ety and outright fear peo­ple have now, and will con­tinue to have, un­til an ef­fec­tive vac­cine is ap­proved.

So, when­ever meet­ings fi­nally re­sume, plan­ners will need to have a plan in place for pro­tect­ing their at­ten­dees, re­duc­ing the risk of in­fec­tion spread, and pro­vid­ing ev­ery stake­holder with the re­sources they need with­out fear­ing for their health. Es­sen­tially, we need to re-es­tab­lish health se­cu­rity in the meet­ings in­dus­try, and do­ing so means ap­ply­ing three main prin­ci­ples from which a sound plan can be formed.


There are cer­tain things you must do to pre­vent ill­ness at a meet­ing. They in­clude seat­ing con­fig­u­ra­tions that al­low for so­cial dis­tanc­ing, send­ing out com­mu­ni­ca­tions about all the pro­to­cols, en­cour­ag­ing fre­quent breaks for hand wash­ing, and dis­in­fect­ing sur­faces more fre­quently in heavy-traf­fic rooms. Ho­tel staff should guar­an­tee the clean­ing of each meet­ing room be­tween each meet­ing, in­clud­ing the clean­ing of all chair/ta­ble sur­faces and spray­ing the room be­fore the next group ar­rives. Also, you need the abil­ity to pro­vide PPE or work with a ven­dor to pro­cure masks and gloves for those who will still be on edge about at­tend­ing.


If you’re a for­ward-think­ing com­pany that’s go­ing to hold meet­ings this fall or in the win­ter of 2021, you will have to deal with sick at­ten­dees. They may have the sea­sonal flu, a cold, or they may have COVID-19, and you need to plan ac­cord­ingly. It starts with giv­ing tem­per­a­ture checks at the be­gin­ning of each day, tem­per­a­ture checks at gen­eral ses­sions, and tem­per­a­ture checks when peo­ple are reg­is­ter­ing at the con­fer­ence.

If there are peo­ple at the meet­ing show­ing flu-like symp­toms, it’s a must to find out whether they have COVID-19, and pro­vid­ing ac­cess to rapid COVID-19 test­ing. The test­ing doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily have to be on site; if not, find a lo­cal re­source to do the test­ing.


If some at­ten­dees are sick, meet­ing or­ga­niz­ers need to know how they will han­dle that. It’s ad­vis­able to come up with a strong sick-at­tendee pol­icy that’s en­force­able and that can be mon­i­tored. That means if one is sick, they don’t at­tend the meet­ing, or if at the meet­ing they must go back to their room. If test­ing is pos­i­tive for COVID, they have to be quar­an­tined. Who did they come into close con­tact with while at the meet­ing? Those peo­ple, too, will need to be tested.

Re­mem­ber, com­mu­ni­ca­tion is ex­traor­di­nar­ily im­por­tant at a large meet­ing – now more than ever. You may want to have some­body ded­i­cated to that role, putting in­for­ma­tive and hon­est con­tent to­gether.

At­ten­dees must be told the facts, such as what the COVID sit­u­a­tion is at that time in the U.S. and in the city where the meet­ing is held. Give peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to ask ques­tions and ad­dress them. Con­fer­ence plan­ners are not med­i­cal ex­perts, so it’s help­ful to guide at­ten­dees to ap­pro­pri­ate web­sites that can up­date them on the virus and safety pre­cau­tions.

What the meet­ings in­dus­try needs to start ac­cept­ing is that pan­demics now hap­pen more fre­quently – we’ve had two in the first two decades of the 21st cen­tury. It’s an in­dus­try al­ways vul­ner­a­ble to ill­ness.

There­fore, the in­dus­try should ad­here to the prin­ci­ples above and de­velop con­sis­tent strate­gies to re­duce that vul­ner­a­bil­ity, and in fu­ture pan­demics we won’t have such a dec­i­ma­tion as we’ve seen with the in­dus­try in the past few months. It will take an in­dus­try-wide ef­fort of get­ting lead­ers to work to­gether and cre­ate stan­dards.

About Dr. Richard Ar riv­iello

Dr. Richard Arriviello (­house­physi­ has been the CMO for In­House Physi­cians for over 15 years, help­ing pro­vide em­ployee health ser­vices to some of the largest cor­po­ra­tions in the world. Most re­cently he spear­headed IHP’s COVID re­turn-to- work pro­gram for em­ploy­ers.

Dr. Arriviello grad­u­ated from the Philadel­phia Col­lege of Os­teo­pathic Medicine and com­pleted his res­i­dency at Mid­west­ern Univer­sity in Chicago. He is board-cer­ti­fied in Emer­gency Medicine, li­censed to prac­tice medicine in over 20 states, and has worked for the past 25 years in a va­ri­ety of med­i­cal set­tings, rang­ing from level-one trauma cen­ters to re­gional com­mu­nity hospi­tals and multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions.

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