David J. Danto
Business travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion
Good And Bad And Circular Logic – June 2022
Attending a superspreader event comes with dangers from COVID…and apparently from fellow attendees too
“I’ve got good news and bad news…” We’ve all heard that sentence thousands of times. It is a sometimes satirical, sometimes funny introduction to something that has multiple sides to view. In our lives we rarely get the opportunity to experience something completely black and white / binary – something that’s all good or all bad. There are often downsides to our best experiences, and often at least some silver-linings to the worst of experiences. That is human nature…and the last time I checked – AI bots not withstanding – we are all still humans.
I bring this up because of a recent experience I had in my industry. After almost three years of a horrific global pandemic, our communities are starting to get back together again in-person. It is wonderful to be able to emerge from our self-imposed exiles and experience group events again. We hug, we toast, and we celebrate humanity – just as we did in the past. It is wonderful, except of course when it’s terrible. Honestly, it can really be both.
No matter where you placed yourself on the concept of pandemic mitigation, the fact that it’s almost over is universally a good thing. We now have vaccinations, we now have treatments, and (at least so far) we’ve been facing newer virus strains with milder symptoms. Everyone likes the fact that we’re hopefully over the worst of it. So, celebrations and get-togethers are a natural source of ‘good’ for everyone.
During the first three industry trade-shows I attended since the start of this year we had all the hugs and toasts and celebrations I mentioned above. Then came my fourth show this year.
Everybody was feeling exuberant – and we all let our guard down (including me.) Many people brought masks to the conference but were embarrassed to put them on because nobody else was doing so. We hugged, dined-together indoors, and celebrated at parties big and small. It was awesome…until it wasn’t. The conference organizers (who had all the legally necessary health and safety information in every communication) either didn’t know or didn’t report to attendees that the location (Las Vegas) at the time of the event was experiencing an over-the-top surge of COVID infections.
There is no official data from the event. (Heck, there isn’t even verifiable data on how many people actually attended – the organizers historically only report the number of registrations, not the number of people actually there.) My view, aggregating a number of sources (my conversations with other attendees, the “oh-oh, I’ve got it” texts like the two below, the calls I received, the social media posts I saw, and those people reaching out to me privately after they saw some of my social posts) is that the majority of attendees were exposed to COVID19, and at least half the attendees caught it. No matter how one looks at it and at what data, it is a staggeringly large percentage of the ~19K attendees that caught the virus.
Now here’s where the good and bad thingy comes-in.
Does the fact that the event turned out to be a COVID superspreader make it “bad?” Conversely, does the fact that people got together in joyful celebration for the first time in years make it “good?”
Clearly again here it’s not binary. There were some awesome aspects of the event, but they don’t take away from the fact that we probably exposed some people with suppressed immune systems to a deadly virus. From all the people I’ve chatted with – and from my own perspective – everyone knew COVID was not over, but no one expected the event and the location to be absolutely surging with virus exposure.
I always look at life with the belief that “it’s never wrong to do the right thing.” From that perspective I believe the event organizers had an obligation to inform attendees in advance if they knew about the surging condition (and frankly, I don’t see how they couldn’t know while setting-the show up for many days before it opened.) This notice should have gone beyond the boiler plate health and safety information they had been providing on all correspondence. (The Monty Python Crunchy Frog sketch comes to mind – the fine print isn’t adequate, it needs to say “WARNING, LARKS VOMIT” in bold print on the box.) It should have been a clear, simple message like, “URGENT - PLEASE BE AWARE: It has come to our attention that Las Vegas is experiencing a surge of COVID infections at present. Please keep this in mind and take every precaution that you are comfortable with.” Something like that would have made a big difference to a lot of people. I believe they also had an obligation to inform attendees after the fact. It could simply have been an email to all attendees once the show ended that stated, “It has come to our attention that many attendees may have been exposed to COVID. If you attended the event please get tested and seek proper medical care if appropriate.”
The event organizers did neither. On Friday, the last day of an approximately week-long event, and after everyone was already in the hall, the organizers sent an “important” email that stated the CDC had updated the COVID19 community level in the area to high and masks were now recommended. That’s it – nothing else.
I was lucky upon returning home to not test positive for COVID. I’m pretty sure I did get infected but I believe my recent 2nd booster, the fact that I had it before, and the fact that I wore an N95 mask everywhere except on the expo floor and at conference events helped me fight it off with barely noticeable symptoms. I never had enough viral load to test positive. My mobile however exploded with notifications from friends and colleagues who did test positive when returning home.
Here’s where the story gets interesting. I’m hardly quiet when it comes to opinions, and I certainly expressed some in my industry’s various on-line communities. I believe that the lack of communication before the event – when the organizers must have realized the issue was substantial – was just wrong. However, even if one chooses to excuse them by thinking maybe they didn’t realize the gravity until that Friday message, I believe the lack of a simple warning to attendees to get checked once the show ended is unforgivable. When I voiced that opinion I was hit from many sides with circular and often irrelevant arguments. ‘…people knew the risks…’ ‘…we all made a choice…’ ‘…I’ve taken precautions for too long and I’m tired of it…’ ‘we needed this show, it was great for the attendees…’ ‘…don’t make people feel bad for making their choices…’ etc. Those comments need to get parsed-out and rebutted…and without the circular logic.
· Yes, we all made a choice and took a risk, but we did so based on the information the organizers provided, which we now know was at least incomplete. The area was surging and the conference was a superspreader. Many people attended with masks but kept them in their pockets. They’d have made different choices if they had more facts.
· Yes, the industry needed this show, it was cathartic and a joy for the attendees – including myself. That is not a response to the fact that the organizers should have better warned and prepared attendees and/or acknowledged it when done. At best it is a circular response as the situation is not black and white / binary. The show can be both good in some aspects and bad in others.
· Then there’s the no one should be made to feel bad for making their personal choices argument – well, that deserves some additional scrutiny IMHO. As I’ve written many times, some ‘personal choices’ affect more than the person making them. When it comes to COVID19, many of my fellow humans want the equivalent of a peeing-section in a community pool. Some choices affect not just the person making them, but everyone else who did not have input into the choice. Yes, people fed-up with wearing masks, getting vaccinated and taking precautions can choose to skirt those common-sense actions, but they are the reasons that COVID has never gotten under control. I wore a mask in every airplane, taxi and public space because I wasn’t going to make a choice for those that couldn’t. I took it off at the conference events – which in retrospect was pretty stupid – partially because the people attending chose to be there, and partially because I felt safe around my industry colleagues. I mean, surely the organizers would tell us if there was a substantial danger – right?
I share all this with you for a few reasons. Firstly, as I’ve been saying for far too many months, COVID IS NOT OVER. Mask-up! Get boosters! Take precautions. Yes, attend events if you will gain from them, but NEVER be embarrassed to be the one person wearing a mask. In addition, DON’T eat indoors if you’re not 100% aware those around you are not carrying COVID. (There were attendees of this conference that wore masks all the time in the halls, but caught it anyway at the restaurants at the end of the day.) Secondly, as we’ve learned all too often in the last few years, when people make bad choices they will often protest loudly, defending their position rather than facing the facts of their bad choice. By pointing out the show organizers should have done better by attendees I was attacked for trashing the entire event. Things are not all “good” or “bad.” They can be both. In this case they definitely were. If I hosted a party where I found out someone was spreading a disease I’d certainly feel obligated to reach-out to all attendees to make sure they knew to be checked. Does that message expose me as the host to legal liability? I don’t know…I think not informing attendees may have just as much liability. In any case I believe it is more of a lack of human empathy thing than a liability thing.
And then finally, it’s a good idea never to be so stuck in your own position that you lose that human empathy. My fellow attendees at this conference ‘who made their choices’ probably haven’t a clue which one of the people standing next to them at the show was fighting cancer…or has a loved one about to be diagnosed with an immunosuppressant condition…or was someone with something similarly at risk. Even those who would loudly shout for policies that support diversity and inclusion – ostensibly so that we can be sensitive to the journeys that other people have to take – seem to sometimes forget that people fighting diseases need that same consideration. Yes, we may have to be inconvenienced for the sake of others – whether it’s waiting for someone in a wheelchair to be lift-loaded onto a bus, or accepting that affirmative action may reduce some people’s opportunities as it levels the playing field for others, or having to wear a damn mask to slow the spread of a virus so as not to infect a cancer patient – those are all inconveniences that are part of being inclusive. People’s supposedly personal choices to ‘pee in the community pool’ affect more than just them and unfortunately they always will. Some are actually a pretty bad choices, but that may not make them bad people. This good-bad thingy is sometimes much more complex that it seems.
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.
All image and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.
Copyright 2022 David Danto
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