Keeping event attendees safe in Covid-19 times

By following some simple precautions, you can help to keep the people at your events safe from Covid-19, and ensure a successful event.

Some people may choose whether to attend your event based on the policies in place. The probability of infection with Covid-19 changes through time, and attendees will have different levels of concern about risk, so it is important to clearly communicate and stick to your plan.

Communicate your Covid-19 plan to all attendees before the event, preferably before they are asked to register and pay.

This is what we have learned from organising events in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2022:

Planning the event

  • Make sure that your event meets any government requirements for your region.
  • Ask about ventilation when considering where to book your event. In many larger venues, including most university buildings, the main ventilation will be a central heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. You can ask questions about things like ‘air changes per hour’, what the level of recirculated air vs fresh air is, what sort of filter is used on the recirculated air, and how it is monitored or controlled.
  • Book an event venue with sheltered outdoor spaces for eating and drinking.
  • Consider using a dinner venue where attendees will have reduced contact with the wider public. Some attendees may not wish to attend a dinner in a busy or cramped restaurant.
  • About 40% of Covid-19 cases are asymptomatic. This means that people can be infectious and not know it. The best tool that we have to detect infectious cases are rapid antigen tests (RATs). Consider asking attendees to test daily with RATs, and think about these things:
    • Consider providing free RATs at your event, and order them in advance.
    • RATs are best taken prior to attendance each day. You may want to organise a space where attendees can do this prior to entering the event itself.
    • Some people will only test positive by a throat swab rather than nasal swab, so ask attendees to swab their throat and nose when doing a RAT.
    • To make sure people know how to test correctly, Australian ear, nose, and throat surgeon Dr Eric Levi has made a short video showing the best way to take combined throat and nasal swab: How to swab your nose and throat – TikTok
  • Have a plan for what to do if attendees test positive for Covid-19, especially if they have travelled for the event and require accommodation to isolate. Clearly outline who will cover costs in this scenario.
  • Attendees with Covid-19 may need other assistance. Especially for those away from home, this can be a difficult time. They might need help contacting a doctor, need regular checks to make sure they are okay, need food or other supplies, help contacting friends or family, or changing travel bookings. What assistance will you provide in these circumstances?
  • Will you be asking attendees to wear masks throughout your event?
  • Remind attendees why we mask. Transmission risk is greatly reduced when both an infected person and potential infectees are wearing well fitted N95 masks or similar. Masking is about keeping yourself and the people around you safe, and it works best when all people are well masked.
  • Respirator masks with N95, KN95 or P2 ratings are best for high risk indoor environments.
  • Consider making masks freely available at your event, and order them in advance.
  • Decide in advance if you intend to encourage or enforce mask wearing, and if so what this might entail.
  • Book flexible travel where you can so that if someone tests positive, they can isolate and easily rebook travel when their isolation period ends.

During the event

Here are some policies to consider implementing for your event:

  • If attendees feel unwell, ask them not to attend.
  • Clearly identify a person who can help if people feel unwell, and assist any attendees who contract Covid-19.
  • Ask everyone attending your event to complete a rapid antigen test (RAT) before coming to the event each day, and not attend if they test positive.
  • Create clear signage for areas where attendees can complete any RATs. This is especially important on the first day to prevent people entering the venue if they are being asked to complete a test prior to attending.
  • Make RATs available for attendees to take home at night, so they can test at their accommodation prior to arriving the next day.
  • Ask attendees to wear masks at all times while indoors, with leeway for eating and drinking, and for speakers. Speaking without a mask can assist those who are hearing impaired in particular, but does mean an increased degree of risk. For airborne diseases such as Covid-19, speaking or singing spreads virus particles a lot more than simply breathing, or even eating.
  • Eat and drink outside, where possible.
  • Keep doors and windows open if possible, preferably on different sides of the room to cross-ventilate.
  • Monitor CO2 levels throughout your event, and open windows or doors or vacate the room for a period of time if CO2 levels rise too high.*
  • Use portable air cleaners in places where ventilation is difficult.
  • Make sanitiser available, particularly around food and high touch areas.
  • Keep track of any Covid-19 cases that arise from your event, noting, for example, if these were picked up using RATs, after attendees have been mingling with others, or otherwise.
  • After your event you can assess what worked well and what didn’t in terms of the event policy, so you can consider changes to the way you run the next event.

After the event

  • Ask attendees to let you know if they test positive for Covid-19 after attending your event.
  • Notify all attendees if you find out that people were infectious during your event, so that they can take appropriate precautions.

A big thanks to Dr Dion O’Neale, Dr Emily Harvey and Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles for their input into this guidance.

*A note on CO2 monitors

CO2 monitors are good at measuring how much of the air around you has recently been in someone else’s lungs, and is a good risk proxy for airborne dangers like Covid-19. It is a good idea to open windows or doors or vacate the room for a period of time if CO2 levels rise too high. CO2 levels rising over 800ppm are a general guideline for elevated risk (in the absence of air cleaners). This is just a proxy, though. CO2 monitors don’t tell you how safe the air is, other than the CO2 part. If you and everyone else are wearing good quality, well fitted masks then even if CO2 levels are elevated, your risk of infection is low. If you are interested in learning more about clean air, visit https://cleanairstars.com/further-resources/.

Vaccination and prior infection

You’ll note that we haven’t included any guidance around vaccination and prior infection. In late 2022 in the context of Omicron, vaccination is currently more relevant to disease severity than infection blocking. This was different with Delta and may be different with new variants and new vaccines.

For now, we have focused on immediately effective things you can do to prevent the spread of Covid-19 at your event, such as masks and ventilation.

Contact us

If there are other points that you think should be included here, please email us at tepunahamatatini@auckland.ac.nz.

Use and share this guidance

This guidance is released under a CC BY-NC license, and we encourage you to make use of it, with attribution.