New Hygiene Protocols for Events During COVID-19

Author: David McMillin       

hygiene standards

The Orange County Convention Center in Orlando has signed on to earn the Global Biorisk Advisory Council’s STAR accreditation. (Photo courtesy OCCC)

As event organizers try to envision holding a face-to-face event in the time of COVID-19, a new “star” might help guide their way. The Global Biorisk Advisory Council’s (GBAC) STAR accreditation program is designed to evaluate 20 different elements of a venue’s operating protocols and risk-assessment strategies, from disinfection practices to emergency preparedness.

The program, which will distinguish venues that implement the highest safety standards to minimize transmission of infectious diseases like the coronavirus, already has received support around the events industry ecosystem. Hyatt Hotels, McCormick Place in Chicago, Visit Dallas, the Orange County Convention Center, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority are a few of the major organizations that have signed on to earn the accreditation.


Brad Mayne

Brad Mayne, CVE, president and CEO of the International Association of Venue Managers, told Convene that what excites him most about the GBAC STAR program is that it is a “true third-party assessment.”

“It’s not the show organizer, the venue, or the contractor working in the building saying that it’s safe,” Mayne said. “These are qualified scientists and epidemiologists who understand infectious diseases and will serve as a trusted source.”

Establishing that level of trust is critical, according to Rick Simon, president and CEO of Chicago-based United Service Companies, a facilities services company, and one of the key architects behind the program. While the first step in holding an event is when the local government lifts restrictions on group gatherings, Simon told Convene that the ability to have an event and having people actually come to the event are two very different things.

“It’s not a question of when the industry will be able to open,” Simon said, “but it’s more a question of when people will come to events. Safety is a primal instinct. If you do not feel safe, even with $10 hotel rooms or $5 flights, you’re not going to go anywhere.”

What will it look like when people are willing to go somewhere? Initially, Simon believes that events will feel much different. “I can tell you with certainty that when we open convention centers, we’re going to be wearing masks,” Simon said. “We’re probably going to be taking temperatures and a number of other protective measures.”

Those safety measures, however, will evolve. “At some point in time, the GBAC experts may determine that masks can be optional,” Simon said. “As the threat level changes, they are the best equipped to make the assessment based on information they receive from around the world.”

GBAC is a division of Illinois-based cleaning industry association ISSA, but a wide range of organizations played a role in getting the STAR program off the ground. David Dubois, CMP, CAE, CTA, FASAE, president and CEO of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, told Convene that launching the STAR program involved a number of stakeholders including IAEE, IAVM, Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO), and Exhibition Services and Contractors Association (ESCA).

“This is probably going to be the broadest coalition in history,” DuBois said. “Put your competitive juices aside. Let’s hold hands and get through this together to find some kind of blue-sky environment.”

hygiene standards

Visit Dallas has committed to achieving the GBAC Star facility accreditation for Dallas venues, including the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. (Justin Terveen for Visit Dallas)

Attendee Journey

Obviously, participants will need to be put at ease about their entire conference experience — including travel and accommodations as well as event venues — during the time of coronavirus. Here’s a glimpse of how the attendee and exhibitor journey may evolve, based on new technologies and new requirements designed to limit disease transmission.

Car Rides — Ride-sharing has transformed our lives; now, COVID-19 is transforming ride-sharing. Before drivers or riders use Lyft, they will have to adhere to the company’s new personal health certification code. As event participants head to the airport to start their journey, they will wear face masks, as will their drivers, keep the windows open, and avoid sitting in the front seat.

hygiene standards

The GBAC STAR accreditation program will distinguish venues that implement the highest safety standards to minimize transmission of infectious diseases like the coronavirus.

At the Airport — Remember when the top priority when flying was boarding early enough to find room for your carry-on? If you’re flying Frontier Airlines, the boarding process will feel like checking in at the doctor’s office. The carrier is requiring temperature checks for passengers. Other airlines may follow the lead soon: Airlines for America supports a proposal to check temperatures of passengers and customer-facing employees. Airports are making big adjustments, too. Denver International Airport mandates all passengers to wear face masks, and Heathrow Airport is currently testing facial recognition thermal screening and contact-free security screening technologies, along with using ultraviolet lighting to help sanitize security trays.

Registration — After a face-masked ride from the airport, attendees will need to get their credentials for the conference, and CompuSystems is aiming to help them do it without touching anyone or anything. The company unveiled its new Contactless Safe Event Plan, which includes a range of options for name badges: a virtual badge for tracking and lead retrieval that syncs with Apple Wallet and Google Pay, a print-at-home capability, and an on-site contactless printer that syncs with smartphones.

Hotel Stay — Whether attendees will book a room in the hotel block or explore alternative accommodations, the hospitality industry is prioritizing the safety of their health. Marriott launched a Global Cleanliness Council with in-house and outside experts, along with announcing the use of electrostatic sprayers and disinfectants recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Hilton partnered with RB — the manufacturer of Lysol — and the Mayo Clinic’s Infection and Prevention and Control Team for a new Hilton CleanStay with Lysol protection initiative. And Airbnb tapped former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy to help develop a new cleaning protocol for the company’s hosts.

Clearly, the trip from at-home to on-site will feel different. But how will the actual meeting change? Check out some insights from experience expert James H. Gilmore.

David McMillin is an associate editor at Convene.

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