As concerns over the accelerating spread of the coronavirus mounted in the United States and across the world, HIMSS, the Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, moved to inform participating members of the press about the latest developments related to the HIMSS 2020 Global Health Conference & Exhibition, to be held March 9-13 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.
Karen Groppe, HIMSS senior director of strategic communications, held a very brief telephonic press briefing at 1 P.M. eastern time on Monday, in which she made three main statements.
First, Groppe confirmed that HIMSS20 would go forward. Second, in the wake of some vendors announcing that they would not participate in the conference and exhibition based on concerns around the spread of the coronavirus, she stated that “We will not be announcing the names of any vendors that decide not to participate; that will be up to them. HIMSS is moving forward.”
Groppe also confirmed that President Donald Trump will be speaking on Monday afternoon, March 9, and promised that by the end of the day Monday, the association would provide more details. Reports were circulating that the President would address the topic of interoperability.
Also on Monday, HIMSS posted the following to the HIMSS20 event website:
“Over the last week, COVID-19 Coronavirus has become a global topic of concern. Our top priority remains the health and safety of all participants at HIMSS20, including attendees, exhibitors, market suppliers, staff, industry partners, and others involved in the HIMSS Global Health Conference and Exhibition. Given the dynamic nature of this situation, HIMSS has assembled an external panel of medical professionals to further advise our evidence-based decision-making and to ensure the safety of the healthcare community currently planning to assemble in Florida for HIMSS20. We remain committed to communicate regularly regarding our attendance and status.”
Previously, on Thursday, February 26, Groppe had sent an email to members of the press containing the following statement:
“HIMSS is closely monitoring the coronavirus outbreak and continues to provide regular updates. As of February 26, 2020, HIMSS20 is proceeding as scheduled Mar. 9-13, 2020 in Orlando, Fla. Currently, registration is experiencing an upswing of 7 percent over HIMSS19 participation. Cancellations remain under .05 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has publicly deemed the health risk of coronavirus for the general American public to be low at this time. The health, safety and well-being of the community is the highest priority. HIMSS20 will be a hand-shake free meeting.
Travel to HIMSS20
> At this time, HIMSS is accommodating cancellations from attendees travelling from countries designated as a Level 3 alert by the CDC. Updates can be found here.
> Orlando Airport (MCO) is complying with the travel restrictions signed by the U.S. Government on January 31, 2020.
> HIMSS is providing guidelines and updates to conference attendee hotels on healthy procedures and tips. All guests checking in will receive printed copies of safety measures.
HIMSS20 Preparedness Plan
> HIMSS has collaborated with a regional hospital system to engage in a preparedness plan, which includes:
> A direct line to local ER physicians to address on-site questions or concerns and provide ready access to telehealth services.
> A dedicated health professional from the Florida Department of Health who will be on site throughout the conference, conducting screening for any attendee who may be at risk of infection.
> Screening procedures established by the CDC will be conducted on site throughout the conference; HIMSS and the Orange County Convention Center will consult health teams at Orlando health organizations when necessary.
> Should screening reveal an elevated risk for an attendee, the person will be isolated immediately to prevent exposure to conference participants. Further, the Emergency Department teams at Orlando health centers will be consulted to ensure isolation is maintained and risk to conference attendees is proactively managed to ensure the safety of all conference participants.
> There will be three medical offices on site at the Orange County Convention Center. One of the medical offices will be dedicated to addressing flu-like symptoms and will be staffed by a trained medical professional who will have direct access to the Florida Department of Health and an epidemiologist.
> There will be an increased number of hand sanitation sites available in the Orange County Convention Center and surrounding HIMSS20 venues, providing alcohol-based hand sanitizer for all attendees and staff.
> Disposable, disinfectant wipes will be provided so commonly used surfaces (e.g. doorknobs, keyboards, presentation materials, desk surfaces, etc.) can be routinely wiped down by staff.
> Interested attendees can access medical-grade face masks at any HIMSS20 information booth.
> Orange County Convention Center has a disinfectant procedure in place for nightly and day cleanings during move-in and throughout conference, which adhere to the CDC and the WHO guidance.
> HIMSS staff is meeting on a regular basis with key conference stakeholders, including Orange County, the Orange County Convention Center and Florida Public Health agencies to evaluate any risk in the host city. HIMSS is also actively monitoring CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) updates for further information.”
As for vendors, news was beginning to emerge about companies that will not be sending representatives to HIMSS20.
The San Jose, California-based Cisco Systems posted the following announcement to its website on Monday: “Cisco has made the decision to withdraw from participating in HIMSS (March 9-13, Orlando, FL) due to ongoing concerns about the current outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus). While we are extremely disappointed that we cannot continue with these events as planned, we strongly believe this is the right decision given the current circumstances. We continue to keep those directly impacted by this situation in our thoughts.”
Meanwhile, the Seattle-based Amazon, which had been set to exhibit via its Amazon Web Services division, announced on Friday, Feb. 28 that it is “deferring” all nonessential travel for its employees. According to an article published in CNBC online on Friday, the company “has started restricting all nonessential employee travel in the U.S. as the coronavirus continues to spread, a spokesperson confirmed to CNBC. ‘We’re asking employees to defer nonessential travel during this time,’” the spokesperson told CNBC’s Annie Palmer.
As Palmer in her report, “Amazon sent the notification to employees on Friday. In a separate internal communication, Dave Clark, who runs Amazon’s retail operations, told employees to hold off on planning group or team meetings that require travel until at least the end of April, when he estimated that the company will have a better sense of the virus, its spread and its impact. In January, Amazon said it was restricting employee travel to China ‘until further notice’ amid the coronavirus outbreak. The company also recommended that employees who are expected to travel back from one of the affected provinces of China work from home for two weeks. Amazon urged employees who experienced any symptoms to seek medical attention before returning to the office.”
HIMSS19, also held in Orlando, attracted more than 43,000 attendees and saw more than 1,400 vendors exhibit in booths in the exhibit halls.