Reopening Events in a COVID-transition World
I don’t think it will be fair to call the world we’re in post-pandemic any time soon - but we’re hitting a level of vaccination and mitigation that might be effective to go on living our lives more reasonably pretty soon. In the US, at least, we’ve hit a level of COVID-fatigue and public policy of open venues where events are run for many other parts of our lives: lots of us are back at work in offices and stores; my state went back to full-capacity allowed in most categories of stores and restaurants (although requiring masks and distance, which necessarily reduces capacity in some of those) a few weeks ago, when we were only at 20-something percent with a first shot and teens percent fully vaccinated. This seemed like a wildly unwise policy decision to me, but I don’t make policy decisions, and I generally don’t get to argue about them in places larger than a dinner party.
That said, this particular decision means it’s feasible I might legally be allowed to go to a dinner party (indoor event smaller than 25 people) or a munch (indoor event smaller than 25 people at a restaurant under capacity) sometime soon. I probably won’t, because I’m nervous and chronically ill and not yet vaccinated (my state is rolling out the vaccine by age and I’m young, so see you in public later!). But, it does mean something interesting for event planners, a lot of whom I’m acquainted with in my local community, who have some interesting decisions to make.
Do they keep running events digitally until their event’s reach has exceeded herd/community immunity (~80% vaccination among adults)? Do they start planning sooner than that and run things outside until that benchmark? Do they run events indoors as soon as it’s legal but require registration to follow legal limits carefully? All of these are valid but have very serious pros and cons. I’m in favor of digital munches and ‘events’ and outdoor get-togethers with individuals until we’ve got community immunity; but I’m only one person and only host occasional events.
I can see how running events digitally is good for my classes and munches because:
They’re generally pretty intimately sized, so we all fit in a zoom room anyway;
I have a professional account to use regardless of how long they run;
They keep munches casual in my opinion;
It removes the nerves potentially involved in meeting in person for non-vaccinated people and therefore makes the event more accessible;
While digital events often charge less, for some classes we can charge, and this can support venues that need to try to make up shortfalls they’re incurring this year.
It makes the event accessible for folks who may have disabilities, obvious or not, that are inherent in accessing the venue.
I can, however, see how it can be less good for my classes and munches in terms of:
Some people learn and listen better when making eye contact;
We all miss in person socializing!;
I can see what sections of a class are being better understood more accurately;
If a munch is based around a location or restaurant, returning to it certainly feels like a return to normal and not doing so definitely reinforces how we aren’t there yet.
Running events outside while the weather is good also has some big pros:
Outdoor air quality and flow makes it a lot harder to spread airborne diseases;
Returning to in-person socialization gets us all the pros of in person without the risks of indoors;
We can make many outdoor events free, which is easier for many to access than events in restaurants or bars.
They do however have cons:
Continuing not to run events at venues (or at places associated with venues) continues to increase the shortfall venues are incurring during this pandemic year - many venues are just losing a year or more of expenses;
Rain dates are necessary and you may end up having to cancel for weather;
Many outdoor locations that are good for running these kinds of events (like parks or beaches) are not as physically accessible as we might want.
Running Events Indoors… has the obvious pro of getting “back to normal” to the degree we can. However, that’s a limited degree, and that makes this a pro and a con. That “back to normal” feeling is an illusion right now. Not everyone is vaccinated now, by a long shot, and while hanging out in person if everyone is vaccinated is awesome, adding unvaccinated people into the mix becomes a risky proposition. So we’ve got pros:
Can let us support local venues and businesses;
Can feel like being back to normal;
Most of these events were designed to be run in these venues, so they’re being run as designed, and that’s usually a pro;
One less Zoom meeting.
And of course, we have cons:
Not everyone has had the vaccines to a level of community immunity and that means indoor group meetings aren’t particularly safe unless we’re requiring they only be attended by vaccinated people, in which case they aren’t inclusive;
“Back to normal” is an illusion for all those reasons we’ve been talking about;
“Normal” and “as they were designed” might actually have been excluding more people than we acknowledged and the upside of this year may have been in some accessibility, so maybe a subset of our events should stay digital as we shift back in-person;
Managing social distancing rules and needing to have people RSVP and register for events in advance makes casual events like munches a lot more challenging to coordinate than they were pre-pandemic.
Basically, all of these approaches might be valid depending on your goals for a given event, but mine for my events lean hard toward it being too soon for being indoors for them, and while *I* might go outside with my laptop or phone, the event will probably be digital. Other event organizers will make their choices as they will, and attendees with make theirs. I think as people are vaccinated we’ll see a sea change back toward in-person events, and as summer turns to fall back towards indoor ones, or toward a mix of indoor and digital again for a second year depending on how well vaccines turn out to work on variants. There’s no real way to tell, because everything is in flux. It’s still up in the air. I think people are pretty desperate to get back out there and making wild choices, but those same choices need to be carefully considered in group settings before venues get seen as petri dishes. These are, as always, just my two cents.