Conventions Return To California With Changes In COVID Era


Before entering a convention of neuroscientists, surgeons and medical technicians at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Friday, Amy Pruszenski had to check in with staff standing behind plexiglass, show proof that she had been vaccinated against COVID -19 and walk past a thermal camera that measured his body temperature.

The rally was billed as California’s first in-person medical convention since the start of the pandemic. Pruszenski, an optometrist from New Hampshire, felt comfortable meeting in a large room – on physically distant chairs – with hundreds of strangers from across the country.

“I feel completely safe here,” she said. “They are the best neuroscientists in the world. If anyone is above, they are.

On the other end of the spectrum was Deborah Zelinsky, an optometrist who stayed at home in Illinois and rented an electronic tablet mounted on a remote-controlled robot so she could virtually move around the convention hall, watching exhibitions and talk to other delegates.

When the robot hit booths and exhibition walls, she said she wanted to be there but still wasn’t comfortable mingling with others.

The precautions taken at the Los Angeles Convention Center – with the possible exception of the robot – could reflect the future of conventions, trade shows and conferences in California, at least until the pandemic is brought under control.

About 1,000 people usually attend the Annual World Congress of the Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics; this year, about 200 have done so, with hundreds more remotely. The rally hosted around 900 speakers, nearly 80% of whom spoke via streaming video.

In-person participants are required to prove that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have recently tested negative for the virus. Masks are optional and many participants wore them. (Los Angeles County health officials are even encouraging those vaccinated to wear masks indoors as the Delta variant of the virus spreads.)

A thermal imager scans the body temperature of every person entering the meeting rooms or exhibition hall. If the cameras detect someone with a temperature above 100 degrees, the guards are alerted.

Each convention attendee receives a badge with a QR code which, when scanned, shows that the person has been authorized to attend.

Organizers expect other large gatherings to adopt similar precautions.

“It is very important for us to be careful but not to be afraid,” said Babak Kateb, neuroscientist and founding president of the Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics.

Babak Kateb is the founding president of the Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

As of March 2020, convention centers statewide have canceled or postponed all major events and in-person meetings. California lifted most pandemic restrictions on June 15, but so far only a handful of convention centers in the state have held in-person events, and those gatherings have been small.

The Ontario Convention Center had a small convention in June, attended by about 200 people, and many more were watching online.

The Anaheim Convention Center has hosted several sporting events and dance competitions for young people and plans to hold a beauty pageant this month.

These two venues, along with the Long Beach Convention Center and the San Diego Convention Center, have larger events on their schedule starting in August. The mega gathering in San Diego known as Comic-Con is scheduled for November.

Before the pandemic hit, conventions, trade shows and business meetings generated $ 66.1 billion in direct spending in California and supported around 457,000 jobs, according to Oxford Economics, a UK-based forecasting company. -United. The pandemic has cost convention centers and host cities at least $ 49.7 billion and 344,000 jobs, according to Oxford Economics.

Although most other pandemic protocols have been lifted, the State imposes restrictions on indoor “mega events”: gatherings of 5,000 people or more. Participants must show proof of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test result.

A person in a costume interacts with a woman whose face is shown on a tablet attached to a robot

Emin Eralp, COO of Applied Neuroscience, speaks with optometrist Deborah Zelinsky at the conference. Rather than making the trip from Illinois, Zelinsky sent a remote-controlled wheeled robot with a tablet that showed its face and transmitted its voice.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Convention Center has hosted a few sporting events so far, but the Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics gathering is its first major convention in person. The event was sponsored by St. Louis University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Its speakers included Representative Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) and author Deepak Chopra.

Exhibitors included companies developing brain mapping technology and spinal cord implants.

Attendees and exhibitors said they felt comfortable meeting in person again, despite a recent increase in new cases of coronavirus in Los Angeles County.

Cheryl Keel, director of the intensive care unit at Southern California Hospital in Culver City, said she attended the convention because she failed to meet with colleagues to further her medical knowledge.

“We are at a time when we can be safe and comfortable being outside,” she said.

Mike Chen, a surgeon and researcher at City of Hope, said he believes convention organizers have taken enough precautions to keep attendees safe.

“We cannot stop everything,” he said. “Being here is safer than being in a restaurant.”

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