July 27, 2022 | By Bronwen Largier

Despite the rolling back of restrictions and plenty of mentions of the “post-COVID” world, the numbers of people in hospital across Australia with COVID indicate event organisers should be employing more not fewer COVID prevention measures as we see out the current wave.

On Monday, the nationally recorded number of people in hospital who have COVID surpassed the January peak of the first Omicron wave, which remains the largest COVID caseload seen in Australia to date.

Numbers from Monday had 42 more people in hospital with COVID compared to the highest numbers in January. Since then, the number of hospitalisations above the January peak has grown to 180. And with outsized case numbers continuing to be reported across the country – today, for example, NSW reported its second highest daily case load in the current wave – hospitalisations will likely grow further.

And while ICU numbers are significantly down on the January peak – they’re well below half of that peak – being hospitalised with COVID is still serious and as Australian Medical Association (AMA) vice president Chris Moy pointed out to the ABC, lots of people with COVID in hospital pose a risk to other patients.

With events being one of the drivers of COVID-19 transmission – by now we have either tested positive for COVID ourselves following event attendance or know others who have – there are things organisers can do to help bring down transmission levels at events during the current wave – even if your event date isn’t far away.

Here are some things you can do – the easy and the more involved:

  • Encourage mask wearing by delegates. Handing out free masks is also an option. N95 or P2 masks are generally considered better at preventing transmission of the Omicron COVID variant than most other kinds of masks.
  • Mandate mask wearing amongst event staff (this could also help with staffing issues as you may reduce infection rates amongst your team and your casual workforce).
  • In venues where this can be done, open windows and doors to increase airflow and improve ventilation. If there is an outdoor section to the venue, encourage people to use it. You could hire some outdoor heaters, if the venue doesn’t already to provide them, to make the outdoors more inviting.
  • For indoor-only spaces, ask your venue about their ventilation rates and CO2 levels when the room is at capacity. You can also ask them about their ventilation system and ask that outdoor airflow is maximised before, during and after your event takes place.
  • Ask – or insist – on delegates taking a rapid antigen test before the event. There are organisations that can facilitate RAT testing at your event’s point of entry for you.
  • Bring in portable filtration devices to improve indoor air quality. They can be hired and you can choose to use them in the smaller spaces of your event or where you anticipate crowding might be an issue.
  • Space out your event seating. Put gaps between chairs and rows of people and consider having fewer people on each table if you’re using cabaret configuration. For exhibitions, provide wider aisles.
  • Use event communications to encourage take-up of third or fourth booster vaccines. Across Australia, only 71 per cent of the eligible population has had three vaccine doses, so there are likely to be those amongst your attendees who haven’t had a third shot yet. And just 32 per cent of those eligible have had their fourth dose. Both third and fourth doses go some way to reducing infection and have a significant impact on the likelihood of ending up in hospital with COVID. Anyone 30 or over can get a fourth dose.

And if you’re wondering how the medical fraternity are implementing COVID measures at their events, the AMA is ready with an example, with their national conference taking place this week.

Organisers of the event are recommending mask wearing at all times during the event, except when eating and drinking and they’ll be handing out free masks to delegates.

Seating in conference sessions and at the gala dinner is allowing for social distancing and they’re holding all meals and drinks (when masks will be off) in “large, ventilated open spaced areas”. They’ve also scraped dancing at the gala dinner as a precaution.

The conference is being held at ICC Sydney, with the gala dinner at Doltone House Darling Island.

It is also worth noting that COVID transmission prevention measures taken at an event help protect the wider community, by minimising the number of delegates taking COVID home to their families, to their workplaces, to childcare centres and into aged care homes.

While your delegates themselves may not be at high risk of serious COVID, many will interact with those who are vulnerable in the week following your event.