Big events during COVID-19: Everything you need to know

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By Craig Beam

A major challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic has been learning to navigate our daily routines in as little space, with as little travel and around as few people as possible. This newfound minimalism resulted in some positive changes for many: less money spent on gas, increased telework opportunities and more family time, to name a few.

But despite whatever silver linings the health crisis might have yielded, we can’t deny that large-scale events play a significant role in our society’s return to “normal.” Concerts, conventions, sporting events and other high-headcount activities aren’t just fun; they also have discernible social-emotional benefits — forging connections, fortifying people’s sense of identity and adding variety to routine.

Large events are visibly returning to prominence, as evidenced by jam-packed college and pro football games, as well as music festivals with hundreds of thousands of guests. But as these festivities make a welcome comeback, the availability and quality of coronavirus testing becomes even more important, especially in preventing potential “super-spreader” events.

Having already provided testing for conferences and even for a cruise ship launch, Worksite Labs is equipped to partner with large-event venues and organizers to keep attendees safe from COVID-19 – while having the time of their lives.

Why large events need testing

Testing — along with the COVID-19 vaccine, antibody testing, social distancing, mask wearing and mental health care — continues to play an essential role in tracking and managing coronavirus spread. The U.S. vaccination rate has largely plateaued between 50 and 60%, those who are vaccinated can still contract breakthrough infections, and most children aren’t vaccine-eligible.

Long story short, we’re a long way from reaching herd immunity, which at this point might not even be attainable. That’s why so many entertainment venues require either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry: Relying merely on vaccines won’t realistically keep crowds safe.

Evidence shows that requiring either vaccination or a negative test can greatly curb coronavirus spread, even at events seemingly destined to be super-spreaders. Take this year’s Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago, which welcomed roughly 385,000 guests during its four-day run. Despite a startlingly high headcount, health officials there reported only 203 resulting COVID-19 cases — about 0.05% of festivalgoers.

Other major players in mass entertainment have begun to catch on. While the NFL hasn’t adopted an organization-wide mandate, the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints require either a negative COVID test or proof of vaccination for entry into their stadiums. Twelve NBA teams, including such big-top names as the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls, plan to follow suit — again, despite the lack of a league-wide policy.

But many of these events and venues sell tickets in the tens or hundreds of thousands, meaning nearby testing providers will likely be booked solid before kickoff, tipoff or soundcheck. Wait times for tests are already elevated in parts of the country due to the combined effects of the delta variant and kids returning to the in-person classroom.

That’s why venues have a duty to become part of the COVID-19 solution by easing customers’ access to quality testing. Not only will it help keep the community safe and prevent major outbreaks, but by providing unvaccinated fans an avenue for access, it will also potentially boost ticket sales. Both of those effects offer welcome relief from the social and financial impacts of the pandemic on fans and facilitators alike.

The event testing we’ve done so far

Worksite Labs has expanded beyond our initial travel-based COVID-19 testing to include general-purpose testing and testing for schools — and, more recently, event-based testing. Two prominent clients have enlisted us to protect their guests from virus spread, with outstanding results.

For its National Dealer Meeting in Las Vegas this year, Toyota Canada was challenged with returning each of its traveling employees back to Ontario. Canadian citizens are required to get a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 test before re-entering the country, regardless of vaccination status. Many PCR providers take days to share results with customers, a complication Toyota Canada couldn’t afford when getting its employees back home.

We partnered with a Los Angeles-based infection prevention service to establish on-site testing for the event. About 400 tests were successfully administered and processed during the conference, meaning 400 of our neighbors to the north got back to their families without a hiccup. And with our guaranteed 24-hour turnaround time, attendees didn’t need to worry about whether their test results would come back in time for the journey home.

Last month in New York, Virgin Voyages, the cruise line co-owned by Virgin Group, collaborated with Thrillist to put on Revvel, a three-day music and culture festival aboard Virgin’s premier vessel, the Scarlet Lady. While attendees were asked to present both proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test, organizers knew on-site testing would help keep Revvel safe from start to finish.

Worksite Labs and CLEAR (with whom we also partner to send our test results straight to customers’ smartphones) set up on-site antigen testing for the event. We tested those who arrived without a negative test result in hand, ultimately processing 2,000 tests over two days. In addition to serving festivalgoers while they enjoyed fine dining and the musical stylings of Major Lazer, we staffed our pop-up testing site with local medical assistant students, helping them complete required clinical hours.

The perfect testing partner

While those two examples demonstrate our success in providing pop-up testing at one-time or annual events, Worksite Labs is also positioned for long term support of entertainment venues. Our portable, on-site COVID-19 testing labs serve 20 major U.S. airports with PCR processing that minimizes turnaround time. And upcoming additions to our repertoire will trim that time even further.

In the next few months, we’ll incorporate rapid testing into our company-wide offerings, helping to increase our processing output for super-large, time-sensitive events. Venues that provide guests the testing they need only a few steps away from where they’ll be pre-gaming, tailgating or just chilling out before a concert or game will up customer satisfaction and convenience, all while streamlining COVID-19 prevention strategies.

Until then, customers near one of our drive-through sites can schedule a visit for a general-purpose COVID-19 test — no travel plans required. Many of our collection site locations are in or near major U.S. entertainment hubs, upping the convenience for ticketholders needing a test.

Filling stadium, theater and conference center seats is a major step in getting our country back on track in the wake of the coronavirus. Worksite Labs is ready to help venues and organizers be part of the solution.

If you’re interested in Worksite Labs for large event testing, contact Senior Director of Partnerships and Engagement Dana Webster at dwebster@worksitelabs.com.

Craig Beam is the executive chairman & CFO of Worksite Labs.

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