COVID-19 has eclipsed everything else in a way that we’ve never seen before in our lifetimes. One week, we found it difficult to keep up with events that were being canceled globally as the Convene team worked on covering this pandemic from an industry perspective. And the next, it wasn’t just face-to-face events that had come to a grinding halt, it’s our everyday way of life. New curfews, travel restrictions, quarantine recommendations, social-distancing measures, and retail shutdowns were announced hourly. And as the number of those who have been infected continues to grow, the heartbreaking death toll mounts.
In light of the stressful stream of news updates about this pandemic, we keep reminding ourselves that what is being asked of us — to refrain from gathering together and to stay home as much as possible — while frightening, is for the common good. To flatten the curve, we keep hearing, so that we can lessen the spread of the virus and not overwhelm our health-care systems around the world caring for patients for whom COVID-19 is life-threatening.
A heavy question hangs over everything: When will this end? When can we return to our normal lives?
In the middle of our production cycle for the April print issue, I wondered whether we should scrap our planned cover story about how to make scientific conferences more innovative and just slap a giant question mark on our cover to indicate the state of our industry — and the rest of society — at this point in time. But we will get to the other side of this pandemic, and we hope reading about innovative events won’t feel beside the point but serve as a source of inspiration for when we meet again in person.
Plus, it’s more than timely to make the global scientific and medical community — at the forefront of fighting this pandemic — front and center. One silver lining with COVID-19: It has been a boon for scientific collaboration — for example, more than 24,000 coronavirus research papers have been made available in one place to accelerate scientific research to fight the pandemic, according to a recent MIT Technology Review article.
While covering the pandemic, I came across a Washington Post article that quoted Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, which has helped me to mentally reset. He suggested on the Facebook page of his Los Angeles congregation, B’nai David-Judea, that we use the term “social distancing” sparingly, if at all.
The “very last thing we need right now,” he posted, “is a mindset of mutual distancing. We actually need to be thinking in the exact opposite way. Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another, must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise.”
He concluded by saying: “Let’s stay safe. And let’s draw one another closer in a way that we’ve never done before.”
More Silver Linings
Some March events got canceled due to COVID-19 concerns just shortly before they were about to commence — too late to cancel their large F&B orders. Inventive organizers and forward-thinking venue personnel to the rescue. Read how the food for two large canceled events was rerouted to those who need it, filling their plates instead of landfills.
Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene magazine.
PCMA has created a COVID-19 resources page to help event professionals find reliable information about the outbreak and to share events industry-related resources to ensure they are prepared.