By John Cordier, CEO, Epistemix
Since March of 2020, our data scientists have produced billions of rows of data on the spread of COVID-19. The data tell the story of where we’ve been and where things are headed. Last fall, the data began to tell the story of the Omicron variant. Even though some things about this variant were unknown at the time, it was clear that in a few months, the majority of cases and hospitalizations in the United States would be attributed to Omicron. Globally, we would see a winter wave, dominated by the Delta variant. It was predicted to peak in December or January, get overtaken by a wave of Omicron cases; ending with Omicron becoming the dominant strain. With the story shifting, how is this new variant, or the next one, going to impact the exhibition, conference, and trade show industry?
I’ll get into the data in the next paragraph, but before I do, I’d like to give a shoutout to the people that give you your local weather forecast. Wherever you live, the weather impacts decisions you make on a daily basis and plans you make for the future. Even if your local weather forecasters do not get the timing of the rain or temperature exactly right, they usually get the seasonal pattern spot on year over year. To be clear, I did not grow up wanting to be a meteorologist. But today, with all the data our team has on COVID-19, we have uncovered seasonal patterns that can help make decisions wherever you live or are traveling to for the next exciting event you want to get on your calendar.
What the model is saying about the outlook as of today
The data reveals roughly nine regions in the United States that have a unique seasonal pattern for COVID-19. Omicron is not disrupting the current seasonal pattern, but instead is extending the current seasonal wave by four to six weeks. Think of it like the six-week extension of winter if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on Groundhog’s Day.
Omicron is also shifting the timing to herd-immunity. It is likely to happen sooner, sometime in Q2 2022. In November, it appeared most cities in the United States would reach levels of immunity high enough to blunt the numbers of cases and hospitalizations during seasonal peaks by June. There is complexity to this, but when populations are fully vaccinated, get booster shots, or are exposed to COVID, fight it off, and recover; they can maintain a level of immunity high enough to prevent the further spread of disease. At the expense of more people getting infected, Omicron is accelerating the rate of natural immunity; shifting the timing of reaching a level of immunity to blunt seasonal peaks to be more like the beginning of May.
What can the industry do with the story the data presents?
- Use the data to plan ahead. If you were going to Colorado today, ski clothes would be appropriate, but probably not in August. The data can be used to plan what health and safety protocols will be required to stay below CDC thresholds for events at different times of the year.
- Plan for protocols based on regional, seasonal patterns. Expect that certain protocols will be normalized or the same for events in each city based on the time of the year. If your audience is resistant to wearing masks, but you want to avoid the consequences of a super-spreader event, choose a place and time of the year that align with a low need to wear masks. Consider maximizing use of outdoor spaces for the event itself.
- Select a location that minimizes risk. Get out of crisis mode when your event is one month away and COVID numbers are on the rise. If you are trying to avoid a cancelation due to weather, there are locations you can choose to host an event to mitigate the risk of getting rained out because of a hurricane. The same can be applied to the spread of COVID.
- Get your communication plan together. Exhibitors and attendees appreciate transparency. If your strategy is to avoid the elephant in the room, fine, but it’s still there. Becoming a source of reliable information on COVID for your community could become an asset.
To read Epistemix’s Spring 2022 forecast, with regional patterns and projections for certain cities across the United States, check out this blog.