Top five protocols you need to protect people from COVID-19 at your event

Despite ongoing challenges with COVID-19, evidence shows we can still gather safely, even in large groups—but only when these protocols are considered.

 

Over the last year and a half, we’ve seen a lot. COVID-19 closed the world down. Hospitals were overrun. When it seemed like there was light at the end of the tunnel, the Delta variant began running amok and it became clear we are far from the end of our fight with COVID-19.

 

However, since the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, we’ve also learned a lot about how to test for COVID-19 and how to protect ourselves from it. We have even learned how to mitigate risk to allow for in-person and public gatherings without the threat of creating a super spreader event—a tremendous boon to people’s mental health and a slice of the normalcy so many crave.

 

A pilot study in the UK gives hope

 

Between April 17 and May 15, 2021, the UK Prime Minister commissioned an Events Research Programme (ERP) to conduct a series of nine pilot events. The events ranged from a small business meeting of 149 people to the FA Cup Final attended by 18,500. Altogether, more than 58,000 people attended these nine events, and only 28 cases of COVID-19 were reported afterward—a staggeringly low number given the contagiosity of the virus.

 

This result was achieved through a combination of rigorous protocols that included rapid antigen testing, surveys, and more. While this study was only the first phase of a longer-term project to help understand how we can reopen safely, it’s already provided a wealth of information, including protocols you can put into action when planning your own events.

Protocol #1: Location, location, location

 

Where you decide to hold your event is key, as every event space is unique and will have different things you need to consider as you begin planning. For instance, will your event be indoors or outdoors? If indoors, is there adequate ventilation? Will attendees be in assigned seats or will they primarily be standing? Is there enough room for social distancing? Are there areas where people might cluster together, like in line for the bathrooms or at concession stands? 

 

These are all important considerations that can impact the safety of your event. It may even behoove you to have a backup venue in case the original one isn’t able to meet all your safety requirements.

 

Protocol #2: No test, no ticket

 

In order for an attendee to be allowed into one of the pilot events, they were required to produce a negative rapid antigen test. Rapid antigen tests are designed to detect when a person has a high viral load, which is when an infected person is most contagious. These tests are small but mighty—inexpensive, easy to use, and capable of producing results in 30 minutes or less. In fact, in Liverpool, regular use of these tests on both symptomatic and asymptomatic people is estimated to have reduced COVID-19 cases by as much as one-fifth and increased case detection by 18%.

 

In the ERP study, people were asked to fill out a survey and provide their mobile number before purchasing a ticket to the event. They were then directed to get a rapid antigen test at a local testing site. The data from the test automatically flowed into CIPHA, a public health platform developed specifically to help track and manage COVID-19 cases. If a person’s test didn’t indicate the presence of the virus, their event ticket was marked valid in the system and they were free to attend. If a test came back positive, the person would be notified and their ticket would be cancelled and completely refunded. And at that point, of course, the person would begin to isolate to prevent spreading illness.

 

Where you’re located may change the availability of testing sites or what kind of digital platforms you can use, but establishing a process flow that ties event ticketing to testing is an absolute must for keeping people safe. 

 

Protocol #3: Consent is key

 

Because information collected on the individuals will likely be shared with other parties, whether for research, contract tracing, or just to validate a person’s COVID-19 status, full consent from each participant is a necessity. They must be informed on what data is being collected and with whom it will be shared, and should be given clear opportunities to consent or withdraw in accordance with their own comfort level.

 

Furthermore, information being sent to outside parties for research or validation should be anonymized to provide another layer of protection for the individuals and their personal information.

 

Protocol #4: Post-event PCR tests and contact tracing

 

Rapid antigen tests have nearly 100% sensitivity on people who are considered infectious to others with a false positive rate of only .3%. But it’s still imperative to follow up with event attendees afterward to track any infections that may surface.. For instance, a person very recently infected may not have a high enough viral load to register on a COVID-19 test and thus be approved to attend the event. While they tested negative for contagiosity and are unlikely to spread the virus before the event, there is a chance that their viral load grew to a contagious level before the event ended. Thorough follow-up is recommended in order to keep people safe and stop any potential virus transmission.

 

To that end, having participants provide PCR tests after the event is strongly encouraged. Unlike rapid antigen tests, Polymerase Chain Reaction Tests (or PCRs) which detects the RNA of the virus, must be conducted in a lab and can take several days to process to produce results; however, they’re incredibly valuable in helping collect the most detailed information about the virus

 

In the event a person does become infected at an event or receive a positive PCR afterward, it’s imperative to conduct contact tracing to ensure anyone who may have had contact with that person can take measures to protect themselves and others from catching or possibly spreading the virus. And it’s incumbent on event organizers to plan, prepare, and coordinate for these eventualities. 

 

Protocol #5: Don’t forget the big picture

 

While it’s tempting to use these highly specific, standalone events as indicative of all future gatherings, it’s important to balance any key learnings against the broader backdrop. For instance, what is the prevalence of COVID-19 in the wider community at the time of the event? Are vaccination rates in that area low or high? The context in which these events are happening can have a tremendous impact on the outcome of the event and is as important as what happens at the event itself.

 

A brighter future is already here

 

The pandemic has been tough on us all, and will likely continue to be something we grapple with for months or even years to come. But it’s clear that, if handled properly and meticulously, it’s possible for people to continue gathering even in large groups while remaining safe and protecting those around them—something we all need.

 

Along with our rapid and reliable antigen tests, Innova Medical Group’s experience spans more than 20 countries across four different continents, giving us the expertise to offer customized testing and health protocols for clients around the globe. No matter the activity or circumstance, our medical experts can help you define and implement the best possible solutions to keep communities, companies, schools, universities, and more safe and healthy. We even offer a mobile app allowing healthcare providers and individuals to track and manage COVID-19 statuses in complete confidentiality, making for a comprehensive tool supporting the return to daily life, a thriving economy, and more.

 

Contact us today to learn how Innova Medical Group can help you.