Our daily news feeds are now dominated by stories of public events, conferences, concerts and whole sports seasons being suspended or cancelled due to concern over the spread of COVID-19. It is only natural to be concerned about what precautions we should be taking as a Society, and indeed several Centres have already contacted the national office looking for guidelines about whether or not meetings and/or outreach sessions should be cancelled.
My suggestion is to follow the advice from Health Canada on their site “Risk-informed decision-making for mass gatherings during COVID-19 global outbreak,” and for each Centre to weigh the risks of holding public meetings, and of strategies for mitigating those risks if meetings are to continue. It’s important to remember that many of the events we see being cancelled right now are either very large (e.g., rock concerts or sporting events with tens of thousands of attendees) or draw international attendees, or both. Our meetings are, of course, much smaller and tend to be very local in their draw. Balanced against this is the fact that we tend to have a lot of older members, who are at the greatest risk from the virus. Also, public outreach events where there is a lot of sharing of eyepieces, etc. may pose additional risk for cross-contamination.
Specific recommendations for risk mitigation offered by Health Canada, and which we should all be considering for our meetings, include:
- reducing the number of participants or changing the venue to prevent crowding;
- staggering arrivals and departures;
- providing packaged refreshments instead of a buffet;
- increasing access to handwashing stations;
- promoting personal protective practices (hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, staying home if ill);
- offering virtual or live-streamed activities; and
- changing the event program to reduce high risk activities such as those that require physical contact between participants.
The full set of recommendations for from Health Canada for public events can be found here:https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/health-professionals/mass-gatherings-risk-assesment.html
Finally, it’s important to remember that we’re in the middle of an evolving crisis. What might seem dire or alternatively harmless now, might seem the opposite, two weeks or two months from now. To keep making the best judgement in the circumstances it’s a good idea to keep on top of current, credible information about the COVID-19 Outbreak. Here is a link to Health Canada’s regularly updated page on the topic:https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19.html?utm_campaign=not-applicable&utm_medium=vanity-url&utm_source=canada-ca_coronavirus
We at National Office will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates to Centres as events warrant. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any specific questions about this matter.
Philip Groff, Ph.D.
Executive Director RASC