A Few Things to Keep in Mind as We Start to Gather Again
With the decrease in Covid 19 cases and the increase in vaccinations, most areas of the United States have relaxed their health guidelines allowing in-person gatherings for events.
Some people do not realize, except in a few places, that while we can gather it still will be quite different than pre-Covid 19 for a while. This is another good reason to use an event professional who will help guide you through the current health guidelines that you will need to follow, be able to come up with contingency plans if something changes and still help you create a great event.
You will need to follow the local health guidelines of where your event will be held. This can be a bit complicated. While the CDC may give overall guidelines, the local health guidelines can vary from state to county to city. Chicago city follows different guidelines that Chicago suburbs. Dane County Wisconsin follows different guidelines than Wisconsin. It all just depends on the local governments. I recommend reaching out to the Convention and Visitors Bureau of where your event will be located, and they will be able to point you to where you can get the most current and accurate information.
Please keep in mind that these guidelines keep changing. If the local area of where your event takes place mentions when the next guideline review may take place, I recommend noting that in your event time and action calendar because it could change your event plan. Also, since events are usually planned months ahead of time, you may need to create multiple different plans for different health guideline scenarios. I have done this. At an upcoming outdoor event where we started the planning process when the local guidelines were that only 10 people could gather in outdoor situations – I had a plan to push out the date of the event if needed. Then the guideline changed to 100 people could gather outdoors and I had a plan to control the 350 attendees so that only 100 would be there at one time. Then the guideline changed to 500 people with masks on could gather. I no longer needed to control the attendees, but still have a plan to have masks on hand if needed. The current guideline has again changed to where there is no limit to the number of people attending and there is no longer a mask requirement. These changes were all in a matter of a couple of months.
Feeling of Safety
You want to make sure your event is a safe place for attendees, and you want to make sure your attendees feel safe. You need to communicate to attendees so that they know what is being done to create a safe environment for them, what the guidelines are to follow so that it is clear to them, and what to expect when they arrive at the event. You may want a Covid Practitioner before registration who will ask questions about Covid or vaccinations and take temperatures… You will want to emphasize to attendees that if they do not feel well or have been in contact with anyone with Covid that they need to stay home. In addition to direct communication, you may want to include signage at the event that shares about wearing masks, keep your masks on when a waiter serves the food, please practice social distancing… It is a good practice to have hand sanitizer readily available and extra masks on hand.
Consider Outdoor Events
Most health guidelines are more lenient for outdoor events than indoor events. It has been scientifically proven to be safer to gather outside. You might want to consider an outdoor event. Outdoor events do come with their own set of problems you need to keep in consideration – the main culprit is the weather – rain, too hot, too cold, windy can make for havoc of an outdoor event. Some work arounds include planning a rain date, use of tents, heaters, fire pits, fans, coolers, wind blocks depending on the area and time of the year the event is being planned. And then plan for the worst-case scenario to be prepared.
Indoor Social Distancing
If you do move forward with an indoor event, in addition to the local health guidelines work with the venue to become familiar with their guidelines which may be stricter than the local health guidelines. You will need to know how many people you can have attend based on the guidelines which usually have to do with the venue total capacity and space available for proper social distancing. Plan on needing a much larger space to accommodate your attendees than in the past or plan on having fewer attendees to fit in the space you would normally use. Extra spaciousness helps give everyone a better sense of safety.
In addition to spacing tables and chairs appropriately for social distancing, if you are using tables, you may want to consider using larger tables with fewer number of people at them to space out further. Many venues are using signage at the tables to ask people to keep their mask on while waiters are serving. In addition to keeping things safe for attendees, venues want to keep their staff safe too.
Food may need to be planned a little differently too. There is a trend towards more plated meals vs buffets. If buffets are used it may be good to have buffet servers instead of all attendees helping themselves. More individualized food items are a good choice for maximizing safety.
It is important that you know who is at your event and how to contact them if needed. Have a registration table set up to check off who has attended and if you do not have their contact information, collect it at this time. If by chance someone who attends the event does get or unknowingly have Covid all attendees will need to be contacted.
The Importance of Human Connection
In-person events are best for human connection. We as people need to socialize. While virtual events are great, people have become used to them, we have become better at doing them and they will remain forever part of our lives, so much more organic connection naturally happens at an in-person event. For instance, who arrives at the same time as you, who you sit next to, who is getting a drink at the same time you are, who you bump into and the list goes on for ways people connect that you just cannot plan for. I personally have attended a few in-person events. The mood is elevated, and people are genuinely happy to see one another. This is even with masks on.
While events will be different and you need to be aware of what this will mean for your event and attendees, do not wait anymore to plan your events. It is time to gather again.