Dr Cooperberg started posting informal polls on Twitter after conferences, including the American Urological Association (AUA) Annual Meeting and ASCO Annual Meeting, to see if attendees were testing positive or negative for SARS-CoV-2, or if they were testing at all.
In his poll of 608 AUA attendees, 13% of respondents said they tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 after the conference, and 22.4% said they tested negative, but 51.2% said they did not test at all. The poll of 252 ASCO attendees showed a positivity rate of 15.5%, a negativity rate of 43.3%, and no testing in 33.3% of respondents.
How Organizers Are Trying to Reduce Risks
At the ASCO Annual Meeting, in-person attendees were required to be fully vaccinated and to have a negative SARS-CoV-2 test within 48 hours prior to their arrival at the conference.4 Regular testing during the conference was encouraged, and free tests were provided. Other onsite precautions included improvements to ventilation and new cleaning procedures at the convention center.
In addition to providing a virtual option for regular attendees, ASCO also accommodated requests for authors and faculty to present virtually and reported that they had more than 75 virtual presenters at the conference.
Other societies hosting oncology conferences in 2022 have adopted similar policies. AACR kept the virtual component for its annual meeting in April. For in-person attendees, vaccination was required, masks were “strongly recommended,” and rapid antigen and PCR testing were available throughout the conference.3
ESMO too will have a virtual component for its congress in September. The society plans to require in-person attendees to show proof of full vaccination or a recent SARS-CoV-2 infection. ESMO is also recommending that attendees test before their arrival and continue to test during the conference, wear masks in enclosed spaces, and follow standard hygiene measures.
These recommendations could become mandatory, depending on the local conditions at the time of the conference, according to George Pentheroudakis MD, PhD, ESMO’s chief medical officer.
“At ESMO, we are conscious of the challenges brought by an in-person event in the context of a pandemic, and we know well virtual meetings too, which have been our bread and butter for the past 24 months, teaching us that they are indeed a viable solution,” Dr Pentheroudakis said. “However, the so-called virtual fatigue is no secret, as well as the need for direct, personal interaction. As a member-based organization, we have to take all these elements into consideration when planning our activities.”
ASCO has also said it will adjust plans for future conferences based on COVID-19 conditions and guidelines from the CDC and World Health Organization.
“As a medical professional society, we value evidence, and, as such, we will continue to review the available scientific data as well as the evidence-based recommendations of public health agencies as we design and plan ASCO meetings going forward,” ASCO said in a statement.
Regardless, ASCO plans to continue offering a hybrid of virtual and in-person options for future conferences.
Dr Moore said she is hopeful that she will return to in-person conferences next year and said it can be done safely. Mandatory masking is essential, along with daily testing and reporting of results, and communication about exposures. Additionally, venues should include stations for sanitizing hands, proper ventilation, and outdoor spaces for meals when weather allows, she said.
“These are the non-pharmaceutical things that we know work, but they don’t work if you don’t use them,” Dr Moore said.
Disclosures: Dr Patel and Dr Cooperberg reported having no relevant financial disclosures. Dr Steensma is employed by Novartis. Dr Moore’s spouse is employed by Meissa Vaccines, which is developing a COVID-19 vaccine. Dr Pentheroudakis has relationships with Roche, Amgen, Bristol Myers Squibb, Merck, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Pfizer, and Sanofi.
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