by Sarah J.F. Braley | January 29, 2018
As flu instances continue to escalate throughout the country, meeting planners should heed the advice of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to help keep sickness at bay at large events.
 
According to recent numbers from the CDC, for the week ending Jan. 20, the rate of hospitalizations was very similar to what was seen in the severe 2014-15 flu season. In an update from Jan. 26, the organization reporting a 41.9 rate of hospitalization per 100,000 cases of the flu. In the meetings world, the CDC has noted, not only does the flu spread easily at events and mass gatherings, but people traveling to and from also can spread the virus to other communities and to family members when they get home.
 
The organization continues to emphasize that the best defense is getting a flu vaccine now, but there are other important actions you and your community can take to protect yourself and others from getting and spreading the flu. Called nonpharmaceutical interventions or NPIs, these actions include staying home when you are sick and covering your coughs and sneezes. NPIs are especially important during pandemic flu outbreaks, when people have little or no immunity to a new flu virus and a vaccine is not yet available.
 
What you can do personally (personal NPIs): Stay home when you are sick. Cover your coughs and sneezes. Wash your hands often.
 
What communities can do (community NPIs): Implement social distancing at events.
 
What everyone can do to keep the environment germ-free (environmental NPIs): Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects like door knobs.
 
The CDC provides educational resources and training on how to incorporate personal, community and environmental NPIs into your plans. Below are things planners can do to protect themselves, their staff and event attendees from getting and spreading the flu. A full listing of preventative measures for event planners can be found on the CDC website.
 
1. Build flu prevention into your event planning and organization. 
• Connect with the local public-health department to review or develop your pandemic-flu plan for your event.
• Develop an emergency-communication plan for sharing information with staff and attendees during a flu pandemic.
• Share the pandemic-flu and emergency-communication plans with staff.
Establish flexible attendance and sick-leave policies for staff.
• Develop a system to alert the local health department about large increases in absenteeism due to flu-like symptoms.
• Identify ways to reach staff and attendees if events are canceled (for example, web-based broadcasts, email, television or radio).
• Identify strategies to increase space or limit contact between attendees during a flu pandemic (for example, staggering event schedules).
• Plan ways to care for attendees and staff who get sick during an event and to separate them from attendees and staff who are well.
 
2. Be prepared and informed. 
• Stay informed about your local flu situation through communication with your established public-health contacts.
• Make plans for what to do if your local public-health department recommends canceling events.
• Consider providing the pandemic-flu vaccine to event staff as soon as it becomes available in your area.
 
3. Communicate with event staff about flu prevention. 
During a flu pandemic:
• Discourage staff and attendees from gathering in other places if the event or gathering is canceled.
• If people must gather, it is best to keep them in small groups of fewer than six. Try to make sure groups consist of the same staff or attendees each day.
• Implement refund policies to encourage people to stay home if they become sick.
• Encourage staff to get a pandemic-flu vaccination as soon as it is available in your area.
• Designate a separate room and transportation for sick attendees and staff, if necessary.
 
4. Tell attendees about flu prevention. 
Prepare additional information for attendees that will encourage sick people to keep their distance from well people. Consider these actions:
• Post your refund policy on your website;
• Encourage attendees to stay home if they're sick;
• Find ways for people to participate in your event virtually, if possible, to keep sick people at home; and
• Make regular announcements during the event about plans for separating sick and healthy people.
 
5. Maintain a clean environment and provide staff with supplies that prevent the spread of flu. 
The flu virus can remain on surfaces for up to 48 hours. Cleaning frequently touched surfaces and objects lowers the amount of flu virus that can be spread by touching an infected surface and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Staff should clean surfaces and objects that are frequently touched, including doorknobs, railings, and countertops.
 
Does cleaning with soap and water kill the flu virus? Yes, soap and water are all you need to remove the flu virus. You can also use a bleach-and-water solution or disinfectant with a label that says "EPA approved" for killing viruses and bacteria.