How can we produce safe events in 2021? PartySlate Founder and CEO Julie Roth Novack sat down with event industry experts — along with a top physician-scientist — to discuss the future of COVID-safe events.
We’ve pulled key points from the discussion to help you host your next celebration — be it a social soirée or corporate event. Learn about onsite COVID-19 testing and screening protocols — as well as best practices for creating a positive guest experience.
As the group discussed, there’s no going back in time. The future of events must include health and safety precautions. But don’t get overwhelmed or dejected, it’s still possible to host a beautiful event — even in uncertain times. Lean into science (and creativity) for your best celebration yet.
Meet the Panelists
The Event Doc is an event concierge Covid-19 testing company. Specializing in mobile testing, it’s the only fully-licensed onsite testing company dedicated to the event industry. The Event Doc brings together leading medical professionals in the COVID-19 testing field as well as top experts in the event industry.
VOW Digital Health is the premier COVID-19 health and safety platform for workplaces and events. This corporate concierge for COVID-19 compliance offers comprehensive services at scale — such as CDC health screens, test results, vaccines, and more — for venues, vendors, hosts, and organizers alike.
Individual panelists of the digital event included:
- Steve Paster, Founder of Alpine Creative Group & President of The Event Doc
- Jennifer Brisman, Founder & CEO of VOW and VOW Digital Health
- Dr. Chris Min, MD, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer of The Event Doc
- Ryan Hill, Founder & Principal of Apotheosis Events
- Marc Wilson, Owner & Creative Director of The Style Marc
Current Mandates & The Delta Variant
Dr. Min of The Event Doc reminds us that “this is not an established science.” Scientists are constantly learning more about the virus. However, there is agreement on the following: the specific mutations that are involved in the Delta variant as well as its increased rates of infection.
Based on the available information, Dr. Min explains that “the vaccines continue to be effective for infections involving the Delta variant” and offer increased protection both for vaccinated individuals and the people around them.
Of course, vaccines are just one piece of the puzzle. It’s still important to have onsite testing and training protocols in place to minimize risks at social and corporate events.
Brisman of VOW Digital Health explains that there are currently three main tools in the toolbox to reduce risk: testing, screening, and masks. “And so every layer that you add,” she tells us, “is one more layer to help you reduce risk.”
She also reminds us, “Doing nothing is absolutely not an option.”
COVID-19 Testing at Events
How Does Rapid Antigen Testing Work?
The Event Doc helps minimize risks at weddings, social events, corporate events, and fundraisers by doing rapid antigen testing. This process takes only 15 minutes and is done at an onsite location — thus ensuring every guest (and vendor) who enters the venue is COVID-negative.
All testers at The Event Doc are registered nurses or actual M.D.s. Often three or four nurses are on staff to provide testing. On average, each nurse can go through 40 tests per hour. This allows them to easily accommodate a guest list of 150 within an hour.
How Reliable is Rapid Antigen Testing?
Addressing the reliability of the rapid antigen testing, Dr. Min reminds us that there’s no such thing as a perfect antigen test. Rapid testing was originally designed to diagnose symptomatic people, not asymptomatic guests at an event.
However, Dr. Min shares, “What we know is for symptomatic people infected with COVID, the test is highly accurate and highly sensitive…what we don’t know is how it performs in asymptomatic people.” Dr. Min continues, “And so when I test people, I tell them the good news is that everyone who’s in the venue has tested negative, but I am not telling you there’s just no COVID there.” With that in mind, Dr. Min encourages guests to take additional safety precautions such as wearing masks and social distancing when possible.
Additionally, Dr. Min confirms that the amount of the virus that a person sheds determines how well the rapid antigen test will detect the virus. Because symptomatic individuals shed more of the virus than asymptomatic ones, they are more likely to be the cause of a super-spreader event. “Those are the people we’re eliminating by rapid testing,” Dr. Min confirms. However, someone who’s shedding a bit less could still be there and potentially infect people.
Lastly, Dr. Min acknowledges another challenge with rapid testing: false positive tests. As a result, The Event Doc never tells a person that they have COVID-19. “We tell them that they have a preliminary result from the rapid antigen test,” he says. “And then we do a confirmatory molecular test. And if the molecular test reads out as negative, we consider that a false positive from the antigen test and we can let that person into the party.”
What Happens if a Guest Tests Positive?
Before taking a test from The Event Doc, guests will sign a waiver that allows the testing team to release the test results to a third party. This way the venue, for example, can take any necessary precautions on their side. This information is usually limited to one person on the event side (and the venue if it requires it).
The Event Doc also follows local regulations and will report to health authorities if required. Although, health authorities are never given the names on the guest list. “That is proprietary to the event organizer,” Pastor of The Event Doc says. “It is up to the health authorities to contact that individual who is infected to determine contact tracing.”
Pastor reiterates that The Event Doc will never tell a guest that he or she has tested positive. Instead, it’s framed as an “inconclusive” result. “When we say it’s inconclusive, we’re going to do a PCR test that will be definitive.” PCR tests are 99.1% accurate. The PCR test will be what determines whether the guest is considered COVID-19 positive or negative. Guests with positive PCR tests are turned away from the event.
COVID-19 Screening at Events (& How it’s Different from Testing)
How Does Screening Work?
To complement Dr. Min’s explanation of onsite testing, Brisman of VOW Digital Health discusses screening and how “these are different tools that, in combination or independently, can be used to really get back in action…and make sure events don’t get canceled.”
So what does screening look like? “We look for proof of vaccination, which we know reduces both incidences and the likelihood that you would become ill,” Brisman explains.
VOW Digital Health uses a health app that manages COVID-19 health information for everyone from employees to guests and consumers. The app collects various data points that include CDC screenings, temperature checks, COVID-19 test results, and vaccination records. The app uses privacy-preserving technology, tight data privacy, and security control.
The app is business facing, meaning guests can only be invited to use the app by a host, organization, venue, vendor, or collaborator. After users provide proof of identity, a vaccine credential, or upload a COVID-19 test within a specified timeframe, VOW Digital Health verifies the information and generates a Digital Health Passport for guests who have been cleared for entrance.
How Does Screening Facilitate a Smoother Event?
Brisman shares, “We can get this stuff out of the way before guests get onsite. We don’t want hundreds of people waiting at the foothills of the venue who may or may not have the right documentation.”
PartySlate recently used the VOW app for various events. Novack confirms, “Once you use it, it’s actually that much easier for the next event. Personally, I don’t like doing forms and scanning and all that. You made it really easy, especially if there’s repeat events.”
How an Event Organizer Can Guide You in the COVID-19 Testing & Screening Process
An Event Planner’s Perspective
With the rise of the Delta variant, hosts may question whether to go ahead with their celebration. Hill of Apotheosis Events guides his clients through making that decision with the right COVID-19 protocols. While it’s impossible to eliminate risk, he notes that there are many tools available for party hosts.
Hill says that party hosts can use both The Event Doc and VOW as two levels of security. “Once people have been cleared through the screening system, then we can bring in The Event Doc and test people onsite before they go in.” Hill also tells clients that he can figure out a testing strategy that is more “nimble” by getting tests to people in advance.
As Hill points out, “We live in the world of the rise of the Delta variant. That’s not changing and it’s not going away.” Knowing this, it’s important to adapt and use the available precautionary tools.
An Event Designer’s Perspective
Speaking as an event vendor, Wilson of The Style Marc shares how certain vendors, like event designers, can mitigate risks by coming to an event early to set up and leaving before other vendors arrive.
He’s also worked with Vow Digital Health and shares how his team was very happy for that extra layer of protection and security. Wilson emphasizes the importance of vendors taking all available precautions. “Utilizing the platform is an easy fix.”
Additionally, Wilson tells his clients how using these platforms can benefit both vendors and guests, increasing everyone’s safety in the process.
Budgeting for Event Testing
Speaking for The Event Doc, Paster shares how onsite tests have actually come down recently. “If people put in a ballpark budget of $75 per test for a minimum of 50 people, that would be a baseline.”
For screening, Brisman puts vendors and guests into two different groupings. For guests, VOW Digital health charges anywhere from 10 to 15 dollars per person. They also work individually with galas and fundraisers (as well as clients or organizers doing multiple events) to come up with a tailored budget. “We want to help everybody get back,” Brisman says.
Guest Experience: Learnings & Best Practices
How to Manage Guest Anxiety or Resistance
What happens if a guest gets offended at being asked to show proof of vaccination? Hill recently had a client who experienced this situation. The client was able to ease the guest’s worries by reframing the situation. Party hosts can say it’s not about “proving” vaccination; it’s about having the documentation to show that everyone is vaccinated so you (the guest in question) feel comfortable and safe to attend the event.
Novack also points out how working with a third party like VOW Digital Health can make it feel less personal. Hosts can say, “This is the protocol for this company.” As Novack says, “It’s not about not believing someone. It’s about having everyone feeling safe.”
How do You Incorporate a Testing Station Into Your Event?
While a 15-minute response time is currently the quickest available for any rapid testing, it can feel like an eternity for guests waiting to enter the event. To create a more enticing and celebratory atmosphere, The Event Doc aims to make the testing site part of the event itself.
Dr. Min tells us, “We try to work with you to make the testing site a welcoming place where people feel comfortable and can ideally relax…and feel that they’re being part of the party even at the point where they’re being tested.”
PEOPLE ALSO ASK…
How Can I Use PartySlate to Plan My Event?
Find a Venue: Use PartySlate’s curated venue directory to find hotel ballrooms, rooftop venues, gallery spaces, and more. Make sure to filter by guest count, location, and amenities. You can also visit the Best-Of page for top articles on the hottest event venues. Filter by event and location to find your best fit.
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Get Party Ideas & Inspiration: Use PartySlate to find timeless ideas as well as the latest party trends. Head to the “Ideas” section to explore new photos, see what’s trending, and read the latest articles. You can also browse by celebration type to see real-life celebrations and party-specific idea galleries.