It’s The End of Events As We Know It

I don’t see the events, conference, or trade show industries being the same for a very long time. As a consistent attendee and participant at lots of events, for many years, and as someone who has produced large and small public and private events from as few as four people to as many as 17,000 throughout my career, the idea of people rushing back into close quarters like before, absent a cure for COVID-19 is just not working for me.

Let’s take event and conference seating and the suggested 6-foot rule. The spacing is not just in front of you. It’s to the back, the sides, and on the diagonal. If every seat is 16 inches in width and two inches to the side of armrest space, that’s 18” per seat of personal space (one armrest per seat). That means it’s every fifth seat for the next person to be seated. On a row with 24 seats, that means only four people can be seated per row to allow for six feet of “social distancing” on each row.

Now let’s look at the needed space in front and back of each person.

If each row from the front of the chair to the back of the seat is separated by a distance of one foot, you’ll need six rows in each direction to provide proper spacing. The same thing would apply to seats on the diagonal. In essence, about 18 seats, in circumference, will need to be allocated per person.

Put that into arena or stadium terms, and you’re looking at 1000 fans in an arena that holds 18,000 people. In a movie theatre that holds 180 people, you’re talking about ten people watching a film, and at a conference where the auditorium holds 360, only 20 people can be safely seated. And that’s if the six-foot rule is accurate to restrict the spread of the virus, something some researchers are not even sure is correct.

For sporting events, restrooms are not equipped to handle lines. Let’s face it, there weren’t enough toilets at present for large crowds, and to take some of them out of service to allow for social distancing will only make event attendance more challenging. The lines at merchandise and concession stands would need to be socially distanced too. So when you think about it, the concourses at stadiums and arenas are not designed for the six foot rule either. Large public events, without a Covid-19 vaccine simply doesn’t work.

In a trade show environment, it gets even worse. Most shows that use the concept of pop up booths or “pipe and drape” have booths are 10 feet by 10’ or in multiples of that size. In one booth, you could have two people working it, but only if each person is standing only 2 feet from the sides with six feet of space between them. The next booth would need to be spaced at least two feet from the adjacent booth, and the people working that booth would also need to be standing two feet inside from either side of the booth. In the booth, they would also need to be six feet from the back wall to ensure that no one from a booth behind them was within the six-foot barrier.

Effectively, larger space for shows is needed, as a row of 10 booths that previously used 100' linear feet now needs 120' linear feet and ten foot wide aisles will need to be at least double that to allow for distancing, directional walking of two people in one direction, and space between those walking and those visiting a booth. Sneeze shields would need to be in front of the presenters. Given the noise of a trade show, the hearing would be almost impossible.

Now, let’s look at booth visitors. They will have to stand 4 feet from the edge of the booth and also six feet apart. For people getting in line to talk to the exhibit booth personnel, there will need to be social distancing lines. Each booth along the row will have to have a line, with each person spaced 6 feet apart. For a popular company, the line could run the length of the corridor…Sorry, that just doesn’t work. While someone may suggest an appointment system, timed appointments, and private meeting booths, all with HEPA filters to take the air out and recirculate clean air, our current event facilities just aren’t available in mass to do that.

Let’s face it. Until there’s a vaccine in place and the spread of COVID-19 is made history, the idea of large in-person events like we experienced in the past is a non-starter. Anyone thinking otherwise is putting everyone at risk.

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