The coronavirus outbreak is not stopping the Society of Plastics Engineers from holding Antec 2020 in San Antonio March 29-April 2.
SPE CEO Patrick Farrey issued an open letter March 3 stressing that Antec will be held as scheduled. For the past several weeks, leaders of Danbury, Conn.-based SPE have been closely monitoring issues with the coronavirus, COVID-19, he wrote.
"We have been in touch almost daily with our host hotel, the San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter, and through them with the San Antonio, Texas, mayor's office, Visit San Antonio and the Meetings Mean Business Coalition [organizations]. We have consulted with them and other vendor-partners to understand the implications, our options and the reality of this evolving situation," Farrey said in the letter.
The trade show sector was rocked when the International Housewares Association called off its big annual show, which was scheduled for March 14-17 in Chicago. The association cited the global nature of the show, worldwide concern over the coronavirus outbreak and ongoing travel restrictions.
The housewares show was expected to bring 56,000 visitors. IHA canceled the trade fair just days after saying the event would continue, but without companies based in China, the country hit hardest by the virus.
Antec, SPE's main annual conference, is much smaller, usually attracting about 1,500 to 2,000 attendees who attend technical presentations, hear keynote speakers and go to workshops and networking events.
According to Sue Milazzo Wojnicki, SPE's director of member experience, Antec attendees began asking about the conference as they were making their final travel plans. They wanted to confirm that Antec was not postponed and that SPE was taking appropriate precautions, she said.
"Since Antec is the only major U.S. plastics event this year, they were hopeful we were still meeting," she said in an email.
Farrey's open letter addressed many of the coronavirus issues along with how the society is minimizing potential transmission at Antec. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's most current risk assessment is that most people in the United States will have little immediate risk of exposure, and the virus is not currently spreading widely in the United States.
Farrey said Antec is taking these additional measures:
• All registered Antec attendees from travel-restricted regions of the world have been given a full refund. Speakers from Asia who are unable to attend can present via video conference.
• Any hotel staff showing symptoms of illness will not be permitted to work.
• Food preparation workers will strictly adhere to all of Marriott's highest level of sanitary practices. All buffet stations will be staffed by gloved servers, preventing contact by attendees with serving utensils.
• Hand sanitizer stations will be placed in all meeting rooms and open areas throughout the hotel, and each attendee will get individual bottles for personal use.
• Disposable, single-use plasticware, straws and plastic cups will be used throughout the hotel whenever practical. Any regular silverware will be securely wrapped in sanitized cotton napkins.
Farrey said SPE has established a 24-hour health care hotline for attendees during the conference: 203-740-5425.
On its website, www.4spe.org, SPE has created a tab on its Antec 2020 page. SPE also has published tips on how to keep healthy at Antec.
SPE's open letter includes a statement from the Meetings Mean Business Coalition that saying that, as of now, U.S. meetings may proceed as planned, while organizers and attendees continue to monitor information from the CDC. Some international travel is being restricted.
The coalition includes major hotels, and lodging trade groups, conventions and visitors' bureaus of several major cities, and the American Society of Association Executives.
"The situation is evolving rapidly and we expect the influx of questions and need for resources to remain steady, particularly for frontline meeting and travel employees," the Meetings Mean Business Coalition said. The group has issued a coronavirus preparedness toolkit.
Also in the San Antonio region, Lackland Air Force Base housed more than 120 people quarantined from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, but most were released after being symptom-free for 14 days.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg issued a public health emergency March 2 to block the evacuees from leaving the base without further tests after a woman released from quarantine at the base was later found to have COVID-19. CDC strengthened part of its protocol for releasing people from the quarantine. Nearly all were released from quarantine on March 3 and taken directly to the airport.
Nirenberg said he "exercised an abundance of caution" in declaring the public health emergency to get needed legal authority to force additional quarantine time and testing for passengers on the cruise ship
SPE's email about Antec includes a letter from the mayor.