Health Pros Get Benched at Conference Until Covid Tests Clear
(Bloomberg) -- This week, the main lobby of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center includes a central purgatory: dozens of white chairs in a holding pen where visitors await Covid-19 test results.
Some 6,500 people have registered for in-person attendance at HLTH, a digital health conference where more than 5,000 have already checked in on-site. To enter, attendees must show proof of vaccination and the results of a recent PCR test. No recent test to show? Then get swabbed, take a seat, and wait roughly a half hour for results, depending on the line.
While the expansive convention center served as a field hospital at the pandemic’s peak, this is the first time it’s hosted mass rapid testing, spokesperson Nate Little said. Few groups should be better prepared to endure the short inconvenience than attendees from the health-care, health-technology and biotech industries.
“If anyone’s going to pull that off, it would be this group, because that’s their stock in trade,” Little said. “For us who’ve worked in this building, where it’s been empty or filled with hospital patients for 18 months, this is wonderful.”
In-person conferences remain relatively rare, but HLTH’s precautions proved persuasive even in a crowd where MDs and PhDs are common. Boston city rules already require masks indoors. HLTH attendees can take it a step further with colored wristbands that signal their level of willingness to mingle: Green means full readiness to shake hands and hug; yellow means only elbow and fist bumps are acceptable; and red means full social distance, please.
For some attendees, the steps are a small price to pay to gather again with colleagues.
“There is a sense of buzz in the air,” said Amy Abernethy, who leads Verily Life Science’s clinical research business. “People want to get out again.”
Other big names at the conference included Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel and Merck Executive Chairman Ken Frazier.
The last time HLTH met in person, two years ago in Las Vegas, 6,500 people attended, marketing director Carolyn Joyce said. This year, 6,509 registered to attend in person and 7,200 including those participating in remote sessions. The number who have undergone the rapid tests reach into the thousands, she said.
Ted Meisel, the founder of health-care consulting firm AVIA out of Chicago, said he waited 25 minutes for his test results. Knowing the precautions were in place made him more willing to attend.
“It’s another layer of protection on top of vaccination,” Meisel said.
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