The HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition scheduled to start on Sunday has been canceled due to concerns about the rapid spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States. An announcement on the organization’s website stated:
“There are concerns about disproportionate risk to the healthcare system given the unique medical profile of Global Conference attendees and the consequences of potentially displacing healthcare workers during a critical time, as well as stressing the local health systems were there to be an adverse event.”
This represents the first cancelation in the event’s 58-year history. More than 80,000 people were expected to attend the conference in Orlando, Florida. CNBC reports that companies such as Amazon and Microsoft informed HIMSS earlier this week that they would not be participating this year due to concerns surrounding the outbreak.
Coronavirus = Conferencemageddon
This is a repeating pattern for conferences over the past several weeks. First, the large sponsors withdraw and then shortly afterward the conference organizers announce a cancellation. The big sponsors not only provide revenue for the event organizers, but they also bring large staffs and are a draw for attendees. Their absence can suppress overall attendance. This factor combined with attendee concerns about the risk of exposure in such a large gathering creates a compounding effect that raises the likelihood participants will skip the event altogether.
The threat of a poorly attended conference also pales in comparison to the reputational risk for the event if an outbreak is accelerated as the result of the gathering. No event wants to be known nationwide for its role in spreading coronavirus.
As of Thursday, there were four cases of coronavirus in Florida. However, that was not the risk that concerned HIMSS organizers. The higher risk was that an asymptomatic attendee would inadvertently expose dozens of other conference-goes to the virus.
Read the full announcement from HIMSS.