However you chose to approach the COVID pandemic, it’s evident that it has dramatically changed how we assess risks when participating in social activities. With many conventions having re-opened their doors and with states lowering their COVID restrictions, many of you will ask, “How can I go to these conventions and stay safe?”
To start, there is no such thing as a foolproof strategy or 100% preventative method from getting any infections. There will always be some level of risk associated with large scale events with tons of people in an indoor space. The focus of this post is to ensure that you know how to reduce risk factors before, during, and after the convention. Also please keep in mind that it’s not just SARS-CoV-2 that’s out there. There’s also Influenza, norovirus, etc. that can really ruin your convention time! Many of us talked about “con crud” for years before the COVID pandemic.
BEFORE THE CONVENTION
Before attending any convention, here are some things to consider:
- Has the convention made efforts to ensure that attendees are safe? This includes masking policies, updates to ventilation, room occupancy limits etc.
- Are you updated on all your COVID vaccines? As of February 2023, here’s what I typically recommend to my patients, assuming they have completed the primary vaccination series and it has been at least 2 months since their last dose:
- For everyone 5 years and older, you should have received your updated bivalent booster.
- For children aged 6 months-4 years who have completed the Moderna primary series, they should have received their updated bivalent booster
- The bivalent boosters are generally safe and effective. Remember that it does take 2 weeks to generate protective antibodies, as well, so people are not fully protected immediately.
- COVID vaccines do protect you from infection & limit transmission, but this wanes over time. It’s important to remember that vaccines are primarily there to ensure that you do not develop severe COVID if you are exposed and infected.
- Are you able to take leave/work from home should you become ill after the convention? Do you have the resources to do so?
- Are there any vulnerable/high risk household members? These include younger children, elderly, or those severely immunocompromised.
- If you’ve considered all of these and feel comfortable with still attending, start thinking about what to take with you to the convention. This chart provides some general guidelines of helpful essentials to start with.
Journey to the Convention
If you are driving or local to your convention site, feel free to skim this section. If you plan on traveling by airplane or train, thankfully, many updates to transportation have made it much safer in the COVID era. This however does not mean they are risk-free, so here are some strategies to consider:
- Keep your mask on as much as possible until you get to your hotel room, only removing it as long as necessary to eat and drink.
- Use hand sanitizer/wash your hands after security checkpoints, after you’ve boarded, and after you have exited the plane or train.
- If there is an air vent near you, feel free to turn that on to ensure good air flow and exchange, which can help reduce the likelihood of lingering airborne viruses.
During the Convention
Now that you’ve arrived, what are some things to consider?
- When you check-in to your hotel, don’t hesitate to ask the front desk to provide you with extra towels/shampoo. Many hotel chains only have housekeeping staff come in at the end of your stay, but make sure this is the case and request that they only come in at the end.
- Rapid Test each day. Regardless of how you feel, you should aim to take a rapid test each morning before you head off to the convention. If you test positive, isolate and ensure that you let your contacts know that you are positive. Exposure time is one of the most critical pieces of information you can provide to folks. If you know you have been exposed to someone, know that sometimes it can take up to 2-3 days before you become infectious and trigger a positive rapid test. Symptoms alone are not indicative of how infectious you are.
- If you don’t feel great, stay home/in your room. Con crud isn’t limited to COVID, and you don’t want to be the cause of a bunch of people getting sick.
- Pack a back-up mask in case something happens to the one you’re wearing along with hand sanitizer.
- Stay hydrated throughout the day. A bottle of water with a straw can go a long way in ensuring that you keep your mask on as much as possible while you drink.
- Consider outdoor seating, going further away from convention center, or just eating at off-peak times at restaurants to avoid crowded indoor situations. Pack snacks to help tide you over.
- Plan on where you want to go and who you want to meet up with.
- If you NEED to take off your mask inside the convention center, try to find areas that are spacious with limited traffic.
- Remember that risk of infection is not just in the convention space, but also in the hotel as well. Until you are safely in your room, keep that mask on.
After the Convention
You’ve successfully navigated the entire convention trip and have done your best to reduce your risk (Yay!). Once you’re safely home and have unpacked, I generally recommend that folks take the next 4-5 days to do the following:
- If you don’t know of any exposure: Should you start to feel ill without confirmed exposure to anyone with COVID, test daily the next 2-4 days. Let everyone know as soon as possible that you have tested positive as well.
- If you do know of a recent exposure: It usually takes up to 2-3 days post exposure for someone to become infectious. If you’re still negative after 4-5 days, you should be in the clear.
In very rare circumstances, some folks CAN test positive on a rapid test at 6-7 days, but these are rare circumstances.
What if you do have COVID? Here’s what I usually tell my patients to do:
- If you do test positive for COVID, ensure you isolate and inform all your contacts. Although timelines can vary as to how long folks recover, the best rule of thumb is to test after 5 days after your first positive test. If still positive, wait until 9-10 days. Until you are negative, assume you are infectious.
- If you share a household with others, immediately mask up and limit traffic in home. Place portable HEPA air filters near your room, as well.
- If you test positive, there are accessible treatment options available such as Paxlovid and Molnupiravir. Speak to your primary care doctor about your treatment options, as some treatment options are not available for some people and conditions. It’s important to start these treatments as soon as possible or within 5 days of symptom onset.
Overall, it’s important to understand risk is a spectrum. Some of the responsibility for reducing risk in disease transmission is personal, and some of the responsibility is shared. The best thing that you can do – if you decide to attend a convention – is to reduce your risk as much as possible through multiple interventions such as vaccines and masking; as demonstrated by the New York Times illustration above based on virologist Ian Mackay’s Swiss cheese analogy, no one method is perfect.
Safe travels to everyone and enjoy your time at your convention (as carefully as possible)!
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Dr. Neuro (he/him/his) has 10+ years of experience of providing clinical, policy, and technical leadership for infectious diseases worldwide with the U.S. Government. In recent years, he has provided his support for the 2014 Ebola Outbreak, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria, Zika, COVID, and now Monkeypox. His focus is in bridging clinical evidence to actionable policy that targets highest risk populations and ensuring equitable access for all.
During his off-time, he spends countless hours fighting misinformation/disinformation & answering questions on social media while encouraging evidence-based decisions for his community.
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