Oct 19, 2021 - Health

The new COVID conference normal

Illustration of two hands about to shake, each in a bubble.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

After more than 18 months in their respective bubbles, thousands in the health care industry returned this week for what was, for many, their first in-person health care conference since the pandemic began.

Why it matters: As the Delta variant wanes and more events actually occur in person, each comes with its own health protocols and awkward navigation of health-friendly business etiquette.

At HLTH's last in-person conference, hosted in Las Vegas two years ago, attendees were greeted with glasses of mimosas before grabbing their badges.

  • This year, in Boston, those who hadn't brought their own COVID-negative test results were greeted with testing swabs.
  • Attendees had to show proof of vaccination; were required to have a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the event or get a negative rapid test on-site; and all were required to wear masks for the duration of the conference.
  • But — not looking to be too much of a buzzkill — organizers brought puppies into the test waiting area. Juice shots were also offered.

State of play: Conference-goers marveled at the novelty of recognizing masked-up business contacts while they figured out how close it was socially acceptable to sit.

  • Green, yellow or red wristbands signaled comfort with handshakes and hugs, a preference for elbow-bumps, or a need for distance.
  • Hand sanitizers and face masks joined vendors' swag offerings.

Between the lines: One of the biggest changes from previous events is that individuals at the conference weren't willing to waste any of their time for what they saw as low-value, because it had been so long since they'd been able to network in person, said Melynda Barnes, chief medical officer of Ro.

Go deeper