As the Pandemic Eases, Events Will Still Need COVID Testing
By Garick Hismatulin, co-founder and CEO of Kyla
Although the panic has subsided, COVID-19 promises to be with us for many years, perhaps generations. People are resilient and we are seeing a return to normalcy, including the return of events and large gatherings. But since the virus isn’t fully eradicated, the challenge now is controlling exposure and limiting infection, which means having some COVID screening protocols to make events safe.
New virus strains are emerging every few weeks, and although the more recent versions don’t seem to be as deadly, we must still be cautious to prevent future pandemics. Medical experts predict that the COVID pandemic is becoming endemic and will drop to baseline levels in the coming months and become more predictable. However, we will still need to be watchful to ensure endemic infections don’t rise to pandemic levels.
The Center for Disease Control recommends precautions for large gatherings, such as ensuring vaccines are up to date and wearing a mask when appropriate. Those at risk from a COVID infection are encouraged to take extra precautions, and testing before attending events can limit the spread of the disease.
Impact on the Events Industry
The COVID pandemic has already cost the meetings industry more than $211 billion and experts estimate it will ultimately mean losses of $522 billion in spending in the U.S. alone. Along with recovery from the pandemic, events will also have to rebound.
However, testing attendees of large gatherings such as sporting events and conferences present unique challenges. Some form of screening is advisable to prevent a COVID outbreak. For example, the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) has strict protocols for gatherings of 100 or more, including proof of vaccination or a COVID test 24 hours in advance. The Events Industry Council has also gathered various COVID guidelines for industry events.
Finding Reliable Pre-event Testing
If the last two years have taught event organizers anything, it’s to be prepared. Once COVID becomes endemic, it is still likely to spike periodically. In addition to seasonal spikes, circumstances such as the war in Ukraine and the migration of unvaccinated refugees could cause a resurgence. County and state regulations regarding masks and inoculations also tend to change quickly. How can event planners include COVID testing for attendees?
The real challenge is logistics. Testing a large number of people on-site before an event is impractical. Using antigen tests, the same tests people use at home, won’t work. Most antigen tests take 15 minutes to show results, and even with the most effective testing equipment, you can’t do more than 300 tests per hour. Testing on-site for large crowds, such as a concert or sports event, would be too time consuming.
Even if you plan to use antigen tests for a smaller event, like a business conference, the results of antigen tests aren’t always accurate. The FDA estimates that 70 out of 100 antigen tests could show a false positive.
A better approach is to build in enough time to have a third party do COVID testing in advance of the event. Certified COVID test labs typically use Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests, a DNA test for the virus that is more than 96% accurate. Collaborating with a COVID testing lab that can offer test results in 24 hours is the best way to protect event attendees and staff.
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