HIMSS announced March 5 that it would cancel its 2020 global health conference and exhibition. In a press release, Hal Wolf, HIMSS president and CEO, stated, “Based on evaluation of evolving circumstances and coordination with an external advisory panel of medical professionals to support evidence-based decision making, it is clear that it would be an unacceptable risk to bring so many thousands of people together in Orlando next week.”
HIMSS made its decision this week due to new information on the potential reach of the coronavirus, a.k.a. COVID-19, and concerns that there may be a greater risk to the global population by bringing healthcare workers together in Florida where they could be exposed to coronavirus, take ill and become unable to care for others.
Leading Up to the Cancelation Decision
HIMSS had issued a release on March 3 that outlined its plan for responding to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ order to declare a public health emergency in the state. HIMSS began accommodating cancellations from conference attendees from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Level 3 or 4 alert areas. HIMSS also advised those who had registered for HIMSS but were feeling unwell not to attend and provided best practices to hotels where HIMSS attendees would stay.
HIMSS had also planned on-site screenings, telehealth access to ER physicians, aggressive sanitation measures, and continued updates from the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) for up-to-date information.
HIMSS 2020 Canceled: Now What?
That planning became mute on March 5 when HIMSS concluded the best course of action was to cancel the 2020 event — and begin to manage the outfall. The HIMSS 2020 Cancellation FAQ page explains its position on refunds for registration, exhibitor costs, travel and hotel costs, and refunds for participants who made a decision not to attend before the HIMSS cancellation announcement.
HIMSS also says there are no plans for virtual sessions or to reschedule the 2020 conference.
A Model for IT Events During a Coronavirus Outbreak
The HIMSS 2020 cancelation isn’t unique. Other tech conferences have also canceled or postponed to keep attendees safe and to prevent the spread of the virus, including Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, EmTech Asia 2020, and Google, Facebook and Shopify conferences and summits.
HIMSS 2020’s cancelation is, however, an illustration of the thought process and planning that software developers and other companies in the tech industry should emulate regarding their own events — whether it’s as small as a lunch and learn or a giant undertaking such as a global partner conference.
If you are planning an event that brings people together, it’s crucial that you monitor the information from the WHO, CDC, or your state’s department of health, and, if needed, seek guidance on how to mitigate risks of spreading coronavirus. In addition, plan for the possibility that someone may show up at your event with a fever, trouble breathing or other symptoms that could indicate they have, and possibly are spreading, COVID-19.
Above all, stay flexible and be prepared to change your plans. The status of the coronavirus outbreak changes daily, so, in the case of HIMSS 2020, what looks like a good plan on March 3 may not be the wisest course of action to take on March 5.
You also need to follow HIMSS’ example of looking beyond your immediate objectives for holding an event to the implications it could have on your region, the country, or the entire world. In HIMSS’ case, ensuring members of the healthcare community stay as healthy as possible so they can save other people’s lives was paramount. Your event attendees or channel partners may not play such a crucial role in fighting back against coronavirus, but they have other vital roles in their communities, their industries, and possibly, to the continued viability of your business.
Taking measures to keep your event attendees safe may mean taking a loss or a significant investment of time and labor — but when you weigh the facts, proceeding carefully is the best decision.