Planning a virtual event during COVID-19 and the Delta variant? Here’s your go-to guide to confidently communicate with attendees, sponsors, and partners.

Event marketers are no strangers to last-minute changes and crises. These usually have to do with speaker cancellations, unexpectedly long registration lines, poor WiFi, and other last-minute challenges that may seem like a big deal in the moment but absolutely pale in comparison to the global buzzkill that is coronavirus.

From April to June 2021, with rising vaccination rates, it was starting to look like some organizers in different geographies could begin returning safely to in-person events. However, the rise of the Delta Variant has caused many organizers to once again pause in-person programs to once again (brace for everyone’s favorite term) pivot.

Some organizers have been able to successfully resume in-person events by implementing strict health rules and minimizing attendee size, while many others are investing in hybrid event platforms to power digital-first experiences. Others yet are once again canceling or postponing their events.

We understand there’s a lot of uncertainty around COVID-19 and the Delta variant, your events, and the health of your team and your attendees. That’s why we’ve put together what we hope is a commonsense guide that’s light on the panic and heavy on the practical advice. 

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5 Facts About COVID-19 Event Planners Should Know

By this point you’ve probably been inundated in literature around what COVID-19—the disease caused by the most recent strain of coronavirus—is. There’s also a good chance that you’ve encountered some sensationalized coverage of the illness. Here’s a grounded review of what you need to know:

  • Contagion Levels: While there have been monumental advancements in prevention and treatment, it’s important to grasp the scale and seriousness of the pandemic. On August 20th, the World Health Organization reported global confirmed cases at 209,201,939 (nearly 3x when we last updated this article in December 2020) with 4,390,467 confirmed deaths. America still bears the worst of it, accounting for nearly 39% of all cases worldwide. (WHO)
  • The Delta Variant:  While there have been multiple variants of COVID, the Delta variant “causes more infections and spreads faster than earlier forms of the virus that causes COVID-19.” The CDC reports that getting vaccinated and wearing masks can reduce the spread of this variant. (CDC)
  • Face masks: Masks are still the best way to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Most states and local businesses are now requiring that guests wear a mask to enter. The World Health Organization labels masks as “a key measure to suppress transmission and save lives.” We expect protective face-coverings to be part of the future of events for some time. (CDC
  • Social Distancing: Keeping at least 6 feet apart is an important part in stopping the spread. Many businesses are also limiting max capacities to make it easier for customers to distance themselves. As the event professionals continue to embrace a hybrid event, social distancing will continue to be a requirement and will help on-site attendees feel more safe and comfortable attending events. (CDC)
  • Travel: “People who are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine or a vaccine authorized for emergency use by the World Health Organization can travel safely within the United States.” If you do have to travel, follow up-to-date guidelines to keep yourself and those around you safe. (CDC)
  • The Vaccine: In the latest news, Pfizer’s vaccine has proven to be 95% effective in their clinical trials. The race to find and distribute a vaccine has been an ongoing focus since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Pfizer) Several studies by the CDC reveal that while Pfizer and Moderna vaccines may lower the risk for hospitalization they are less effective against the Delta variant. Meanwhile, it appears that Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson booster shots may be advised in the future. Even with these vaccine updates, we predict it will be some time before organizers resume larger in-person events.

For the most up-to-date information visit the dedicated knowledge centers on the WHO and CDC websites, and check with your local health organization. 

8 Steps You Can Take To Protect Your Attendees from COVID-19

The events industry is going to be feeling the effects of COVID-19 and the Delta variant throughout the rest of 2021, and likely into 2022. If you do plan on bringing attendees on-site, here’s how you can keep them protected and minimize risk.

1. Create a plan and communicate it with all stakeholders

Create a crisis communication plan that will assure your partners and attendees that you are taking COVID-19 seriously and let them know exactly how you’re following the guidelines. It will also help you more confidently welcome your attendees to an event. 

The best place to create and maintain a communication plan is on a webpage of your event website. More on this in sections 3-5 below.

The first stakeholders you’ll want to communicate with are your attendees. Create a transparent plan that tells them what to expect and answers questions they might have about attending your event. Consider including a contact tracing log as well to ensure attendee are aware if they’ve come in contact with the COVID-19 virus.

You’ll also want to create an internal communication plan that details the action items and processes to take, should anything happen. Think about questions like: Who is communicating with and guiding attendees? Is there a building management team that needs to be notified? How will you communicate to attendees?

You can find more on crisis management from Deloitte.

Below is an excerpt of the external preparedness plan from HIMSS20, a gathering of roughly 45,000 global health change-makers from around the globe. You can see the full preparedness plan for HIMSS20 here.

Update: As of March 5, HIMSS20 has decided to go virtual but their detailed plan still serves as a model example for event organizers.

On-site Preparedness Plan

  • While the risk remains low at this time, we cannot ensure a virus-free environment. HIMSS20 will be a handshake-free meeting. We recommend the HIMSS elbow tap.
  • We are working with Orlando Health and Dr. Phillips Hospital (closest to convention center) to provide extra medical support as needed on site.
    • Screening protocols for EMTs and Nurses on site
    • Telehealth access to ER physicians to host virtual visits as necessary
  • There will be three medical offices on site at the Orange County Convention Center. One of the medical offices will be dedicated to addressing both flu and coronavirus symptoms and will be staffed by a trained medical professional with direct access to the Florida Department of Health and an Epidemiologist.
  • HIMSS and the Orange County Convention Center will consult health teams at Orlando Health 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 the risk to conference attendees is proactively managed to ensure the safety of all conference participants.

Best practices for creating a preparedness plan:

  • Coordinate with local health officials
  • Reach out to all meeting spaces, hotels, and venues
  • Determine steps for identifying and isolating attendees with elevated risk
  • Plan to circulate literature around COVID-19 prevention throughout your venue
  • Have hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes on-hand

For more information on creating a preparedness plan, see the CDCs Interim Guidance for event organizers

2. Maintain an Update Log

Another way that you can let your attendees, partners, and speakers know that you are taking COVID-19 seriously is by maintaining an update log.

You can also include contact tracing in your update log. For example, by sending ‘exposure notifications’ to let attendees know about possible contact.

The RSA Conference—a gathering of thousands of cybersecurity professionals that wrapped up at the end of February—kept a running list of updates leading up to and even after the event. You can find an excerpt below. You can see the full list of RSA conference updates here.

Below are updates on how the coronavirus is impacting RSA Conference and what attendees should know and do while at the event. Additional information about the coronavirus and its global impact can be found on CDC and WHO websites.

February 25, 2020

Today, the City of San Francisco declared a State of Emergency to begin preparations around any future coronavirus outbreaks. The City stated that residents and visitors remain at low risk for becoming infected with the coronavirus and that the number of cases within the City remains at zero. This declaration will enable the City to accelerate emergency planning measures and more effectively respond to any outbreak by securing funding and ensuring that public health officials have the resources they need, including the ability to monitor for cases, investigate potential exposure through contact and quarantine new cases.

We remain in contact with the City, local health officials and are monitoring the CDC. 

To read the press release from Mayor London Breed’s office, please visit

February 21, 2020

We learned today that Verizon has decided to no longer participate in RSA Conference 2020 as a Gold Sponsor. We understand and respect their decision…

Best practices for maintaining an update log on your event website:

  • Add the time and/or date to your updates to demonstrate that you are actively monitoring the situation
  • Share the latest information from local health officials
  • Share the latest updates on your preparedness plan
  • Direct your audience to other updates or preparedness plan pages if applicable

3. Proactively Update Your Attendees

Maintaining an update log on your event website will help provide answers for attendees, speakers, and partners who are seeking information about your event. To beat them to the search, plan on sending regular updates over email, social and push notifications (if you’re using a mobile event app). 

Here’s how folks approached communicating with attendees in 2020 to keep in mind for 2021.

Below is an email excerpt from SaaStr founder Jason Lemkin. SaaStr is one of the largest conferences for SaaS executives and VCs in the world.

Update: Following guidance from Santa Clara County, the organizers of SaaStr opted on March 5 to postpone SaaStr annual and merge it with an event hosted later in the year.

Subject: Subject: SaaStr Annual is 10 Days Out! And We’ve Added Important Health & Safety Rules


Here’s an example of how SaaStr’s founder updated attendees on Twitter:

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