John Launius interviews event pros Sam Foxman and Hillary Cartwright of Evntiv about how organizations are hosting in-person events during the Delta variant surge.
John Launius (JL): In general, what is happening with in-person events as Covid cases rise in Missouri?
Sam Foxman (SF): Most in-person events for the fall are moving forward as planned. Many of these events have a virtual component or some way for guests to join the experience from the safety of home. What we are seeing in Missouri is a massive spike in cases amongst the unvaccinated. Specifically in Southwestern Missouri. St. Louis County and St. Louis City cases are not as volatile because the vaccination rate is higher. This is truly becoming an “epidemic of the unvaccinated” leaving the vaccinated population to participate safely in events, concerts, festivals and gatherings with other vaccinated individuals.
Hillary Cartwright (HC): Just look at the stats… 99.5% of the people in the hospital dying of COVID-19 are unvaccinated. There’s a very clear correlation where populations that have lower vaccination rates also have more COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths due to COVID-19. And unfortunately, in Missouri, only 50% of adults 18+ are vaccinated.
JL: Can an organization require that all guests who attend our event be vaccinated?
HC: Yes. The question becomes how guests should share their vaccine status. The degree of strictness varies, but usually there are 2 options:
- You can rely on guests to be honorable and proclaim they are vaccinated without sharing documented proof OR
- You can require guests to show documented proof – either their vaccination card or in lieu of that, a negative PCR test result.
JL: Is it legal to require all guests who attend the event be vaccinated?
SF: Yes. It is legal for a business or an event host to ask for proof of vaccination since HIPAA rules only apply to healthcare providers.
JL: Is it ethical? Does requiring vaccines discriminate?
SF: Not in my opinion. For most guests, being unvaccinated is a choice, not something you can’t help. However, for those who suffer from autoimmune issues who cannot be vaccinated, it is not a choice. Therefore, I suggest to our clients that they have some way for those individuals to join the experience virtually.
JL: How does the organization gain proof of vaccination?
HC: Unfortunately, in the U.S., there is no simple and verified way to prove that someone has been vaccinated. The closest thing we have is the CDC vaccine card, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t necessarily carry that around with me everywhere I go.
So, we have to get a little creative here. The complexity and strictness of this varies and you can use multiple methods in-tandem.
- Some simple options include:
- On the printed and electronic invitation, boldly inform all potential guests that they must be vaccinated to attend
- Ask guests to agree to terms and conditions or what I like to call a “community responsibility pledge”, which includes adhering to outlined COVID-19 safety protocols and being fully vaccinated
- You could also ask to view a photo of their CDC vaccine card or negative COVID-19 test result upon their arrival it the event
- If you are doing that, just make sure everyone is well aware in advance
- A more complex option would be to use an app that follows all privacy regulations, like Clear, where guests can upload a picture of their vaccine card or negative COVID-19 test result prior to the event.
You should never have guests email their COVID-19 test results or copies of their CDC vaccine cards – that information should only be shared through secured technology.
JL: Is it enough to put the responsibility on the guest to “check a box” if they are vaccinated?
SF: For those hosting events in a city with high vaccination rates, maybe. In Missouri, maybe not. From a liability standpoint, I prefer a paper trail. This is why I would recommend that hosts require the uploading or secure submission of a vaccination card.
JL: Should we be concerned about breakthrough cases of COVID-19 happening at our event?
SF: Not if all guests are vaccinated. Remember, the vaccines have a very high rate of efficacy. It is still unknown if vaccinated people can transmit the virus. However, if all guests are vaccinated, the breakthrough margin is slim.
JL: Should we cancel or postpone our in-person event due to rising COVID-19 infections in Missouri?
HC: No, I don’t think that’s necessary if you plan to require guests be vaccinated to attend. If you plan to host a vulnerable audience who cannot be vaccinated or if you plan to invite unvaccinated guests, you may want to rethink. We’ll be living with COVID-19 in some form or another for a very long time to come. In my opinion, we cannot stop having gatherings because a segment of the population wants to voluntarily refrain from vaccinating. Human connection is too important to our community and our commerce.
SF: Out of the 26 events our team is working on for October, November and December, only one is considering switching to virtual due to the recent surge in Missouri and other states. However, almost all of them will be doing some kind of language or policy around vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.
HC: The current surge will likely subside by September and cases will fall. Unfortunately, we will see this wave effect continue to happen until our vaccination rates increase.
JL: Should we go back to virtual events until COVID-19 cases fall?
HC: Instead of reverting back to virtual, we are seeing the rise of hybrid events. Oddly, we sort of skipped over hybrid event planning back in May when the CDC surprised us with the announcement that masks were no longer needed anywhere if you are vaccinated. Now with the surge in the Delta variant, we are seeing live events add a virtual component, thus making them hybrid.
JL: What do you project with the virus in Missouri and how will it effect in-person events in the next 6 months?
HC: I geek out over stats and projections. From the experts I follow, they are predicting a rise in cases in Southwestern Missouri that will crest in late August / early September and then fall back down in mid-November. Again, this rise in cases is only affecting the unvaccinated at this time.
JL: Would you send your 75-year old parents to an event with 500 plus people?
SF: Only if I was producing it! Seriously, if I knew there was a “vaccinated guests only” protocol in place where the host was requiring proof of vaccination, I would not worry.
JL: Where do we go from here?
SF: This current surge is primarily affecting the unvaccinated with a few breakthrough cases. The numbers will fall back to acceptable levels in a month or so. Then, hopefully, people will start to understand that another wave will come for the unvaccinated population unless they change their habits. It’s not my opinion, not my political stance, just what the data is showing.
HC: Eventually, large employers, sports teams, concert producers, non-profits and public facing organizations will require employees and guests to be vaccinated. When this happens, we will see a big increase in the vaccination rate.
JL: What advice would you give to an organization planning an in-person event in Missouri?
SF: Make a decision on vaccine requirements and stand by it. You will receive some pushback from a few frustrated patrons, but in the larger scope, it is the safest option to keep our community moving forward with safe gatherings.
+ + + +
John Launius is a media and technology executive, and the President of Vidzu Media. He has provided leadership across governmental and educational sectors and has worked in all forms of media during his career. As a designated “Show Me Missouri” Historical Speaker, representing the Missouri Humanities Council and the Missouri State Historical Society, he enjoys research, writing and lecturing about nineteenth- and twentieth-century America. As a public speaker, he enjoys discussing leadership, management and other business-related topics. He is a Hillman Scholar mentor and has engaged with nonprofits and charitable organizations focused on improving the quality of life for others. He has a BA from Webster University and studied at Washington University in St. Louis, DePaul University, and The Second City in Chicago. His new best-selling book, The Life and Times of Missouri’s Charles Parsons: Between Art and War is available where books are sold
Sam Foxman is one of the most sought after event professionals in the Midwest, and one of the top producers in the country. Foxman has been credited with entertaining over three million people in his 26-year career of producing world-class live and virtual events. From 1997 to 2011, Foxman held leadership positions at prominent entertainment firms, including the concert giant Live Nation. In 2012, Foxman launched Evntiv with Business partner Keith Alper. Evntiv is a dynamic team of talented event producers who create one-of-a-kind live and virtual event experiences. At Evntiv, Foxman and his team create and produce events for major international brands including Boeing, Citrix, Edward Jones, IKEA, World Wide Technology, Amazon, Merck, Washington University in St. Louis, Google and Southwest Airlines. In addition, Foxman and his team provide booking, management and consulting services for entertainment venues.
Hillary Cartwright serves as Senior Project Manager and COVID-19 Safety Officer for Evntiv. Hillary has 13-years of event experience ranging from small coffeehouse concerts on college campuses to multi-million dollar sponsorship marketing activations. She has produced events for United Airlines, Kingsford, Benjamin Moore, and most recently 29rooms for Refinery29. Event safety, staff training, and sustainability have always been a priority and passion for her. Hillary is a member of Event Safety Alliance and a Member of Meeting Professionals International (MPI).
Evntiv is a dynamic team of talented designers and producers dedicated to creating one-of-a-kind live and virtual event experiences. Evntiv offers full-service event planning, virtual / hybrid event strategy, entertainment booking, audio/visual technology, video creation and a suite of graphic and web design services. The Evntiv team has produced award-winning live and virtual events including galas, outdoor festivals, fashion events, grand openings, concerts, awards show, and much more. Evntiv’s mission is to collaborate with clients to develop innovative event experiences that connect with their audiences, communicate a message and celebrate their accomplishments.