COVID-19 and Conferences

If they had held the conference two weeks later, I wouldn’t have been able to attend. I just made it out of Europe and into the States before the travel ban came into effect. I got back to Spain on March 11th, just as things were starting to get out of control in some European countries.
The mood at the conference was cheerful, but cautious. People were joking about coronavirus, but many refused to shake hands. Instead they offered their elbows for you to touch or gave the five-finger Vulcan salute from Star Trek. Some people even lifted their leg and touched feet to say ‘Hello, nice to meet you!’.
Hand sanitizer was everywhere for public use, and there were signs everywhere reminding us to wash our hands. Mind you, on the whole, I’ve always found the North Americans to be more sensitive to germs and sanitation than Europeans.
Many people offered me their hand to shake and I always took it. That was the most awkward thing, y’know. You’re introduced to someone new or you meet an old friend and you wait a second to see if they offer their hand. The body language is usually pretty clear, but this is something I never had to think about before. That second or two of hesitation can be quite uncomfortable.
Things have got worse since I got back and most conferences and public meetings and events have been cancelled. So, what does the future hold? Well, for the time being it looks like most conferences and events will be held online. As one conference organizer told me, 'We have to put down deposits on hotels and conference centres 6 to 8 months in advance and if we cancel, we lose the money'.
That’s a big decision for conference organizers, so unless hotel and convention centres can be more flexible with bookings, perhaps with a 100% cancellation policy, I guess will be meeting online at virtual conferences. So, see you on Skype!

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