MARCH 16, 2021 UPDATE: HOW WE ARRIVED AT 2 LIVE WEBINARS AND 1 IN-PERSON CONFERENCE FOR 2021
Late in January our nonprofit evaluated the prior 12 weeks of COVID-19 data and trends so that we could take a clear stand on February 1 regarding our 2021 conferences.... which would then be 15 and 20 weeks away. The 12-week trajectory of infections, hospitalizations and deaths had been very discouraging, and fewer than 8% of Americans had been vaccinated by the end. The 15 to 20 week timeframe looking forward seemed inadequate to inspire confidence both that current widespread acute flare-ups would be arrested AND virus transmission rates would then sustain a steady and sharp drop. Our board decided that we needed a longer lead-time for staging an in-person conference with proper attentiveness to public health concerns. Therefore the May 21-23 and June 25-27, 2021 conferences were converted to virtual access only.
After 4 to 5 weeks we again evaluated COVID-19 data and trends with support of a trusted virologist's perspective. The nightmarish trajectory of U.S. COVID-19 impact leading into January had indeed reversed itself, and vaccination coverage was making sizable strides despite arbitrarily differing eligibility rules throughout the U.S. A presidential claim was made that sufficient vaccine doses to cover the U.S. population would exist by May, and data was emerging from multiple sources that various vaccine types were effective not only for preventing grave disease symptoms but also for substantially reducing asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic virus transmission. Much daunting public health effort remained ahead in order yet again to promote throughout society the key behaviors such as masking and distancing, as well as acceptance of vaccination as an act supporting the common good. However, looking ahead 7 and a half months, or 33 weeks, from then, our objective analysis concluded that this generous timeframe placed the odds strongly in favor of ongoing trends making it feasible to mount an in-person conference…. with the assumption that we would maintain a comprehensive set of precautionary measures on-site, just as we had planned for prior conferences that did convert to virtual-only.
Therefore we set about to produce a special in-person Oct. 23-24, 2021 P-POD Conference in Orlando FL. We fully intend to require all attendees either to have completed a nationally approved COVID-19 vaccine regimen, or else to have obtained a current negative COVID-19 test result. We are prepared to implement all other virus transmission-discouraging protocols that are scientifically justified in that timeframe, surely including masking and common-sense distancing and sanitization procedures, and possibly including on-site screening of temperatures and required disclosure of suspicious symptoms. We are intending the conference hall to be utilized at 20% to 25% of its maximum theatre attendance capacity. Conference program and registration details will be published as soon as available.
SEE SPECIAL STATEMENT REGARDING ABLM AND LIFESTYLE MEDICINE.
FEB. 1, 2021 STATEMENT ABOUT CONVERTING MAY-JUNE 2021 CONFERENCES TO LIVE WEBINARS ONLY
The health and safety of our guests, presenters and staff members are our greatest priority. Six months ago, we began intensive preparation for our two 2021 in-person conferences that would be simultaneously livestreamed. We provided for a comprehensive set of strict protective measures against COVID-19 transmission, and had high hopes for ongoing societal public health progress against the pandemic. Recently, all coronavirus-related trends in the U.S. have been extraordinarily discouraging, and our nonprofit board of directors had to conclude this week that we don't expect travel during May-June to be advisable. Therefore, the 2021 P-POD conferences will now be 2 unique live webinars, with unchanged speakers and agendas. Registration for virtual attendance will continue as before, and there will be no in-person participation.
SEE SPECIAL STATEMENT REGARDING ABLM AND LIFESTYLE MEDICINE.
WHY WE TOOK THIS ACTION. From when we entered our final 2 weeks of speaker invitations, to one week ago, the occasionally-surveyed frequency of U.S. mask wearing seems to have dropped by 30% or more, the U.S. weekly COVID-19 death rate increased by 284% (and an all-time daily high was reached), and current COVID-19 hospitalization levels increased by 274%. As of then, less than 8% of the U.S. population had been vaccinated, and numerous polls published in January found that 22% to 60% of the general public or of prioritized groups expected to refuse vaccination. Further, there is still no evidence that the vaccines now in use, known to be effective in preventing full-blown or dangerous disease outcomes, actually prevent individuals from becoming infected and able to spread coronavirus asymptomatically (or while minimally symptomatic). The anticipated false reassurance about immunity-to-being-a-spreader will likely cause a further perilous erosion of protective behaviors like masking and distancing, making matters worse while vaccination distribution efforts slowly try to make things better. At the same time, several mutative variants of the COVID-19 virus are now apparently displaying higher infectivity rates, and their altered qualities suggest at least marginal reduction in whatever efficacy existing vaccines show with regard to the originally targeted prime variant.
Despite the aggressive and comprehensive array of COVID-19 control measures we had designed for our conferences, we cannot succeed as an island within a society where simply leaving one's home may again or still carry a concerning level of risk. We must wait for a much more favorable opportunity to re-initiate in-person gatherings.
REVISITING COVID-19 ADAPTATIONS WE HAD ORIGINALLY PLANNED FOR IN-PERSON 2021 CONFERENCES BEFORE VIRTUAL CONVERSION
We knew that significant novel coronavirus threats to and disruption of society would continue throughout 2021, thus for our in-person events we had committed to implementing protective measures such as those we previously designed for our 2020 conference prior to converting to all-virtual.... and much more. On behalf of enhanced participant safety, we had committed to limiting attendance to 15-20% of the capacity of each conference hall, and requiring COVID-19 testing prior to travel, daily temperature screening, disclosure of possible relevant symptoms, masking throughout, distancing procedures, no sharing of microphones, etc. Surely such a range of protocols will need to be implemented at whatever point that large-group educational gatherings might be able to be re-staged in society once again.
As a historical reference, you may view our much earlier April 15, 2020 article "Safety-Supporting Efforts and Standards" with more background detail about how we were initially planning protective measures around the beginning of the pandemic. The article was edited to reflect our conclusion soon after that only 20% or less of the conference hall capacity should be utilized.
MARCH 26, 2020 STATEMENT ABOUT NECESSARY PUBLIC HEALTH RESPONSE TO CRISIS
This was a statement about the profound inadequacy of societal mobilization against COVID-19 at that time, and urgent needs for comprehensive coordinated intervention.