By Jen Topa
Back in August 2020, we shared tips on how to hold safe in-person pop-up events. As we approach the one-year mark of the end of public meetings as we once knew them, we are now sharing five key tips on how to hold safe in-person public meetings. Few situations will necessitate in-person events, but this past Fall, we were able to safely hold an in-person public meeting by taking the following key steps:
- Select a large event space with proper air flow. It is critical to select a room that has ample space to allow for 6 feet of distance between participants. If possible, select a room with windows and ventilation to allow for proper air circulation. We placed fans throughout the room for extra precautions.
- Provide PPE and sanitizing supplies. We provided hand sanitizer and masks if people needed one. We also had sanitizing wipes available for people to wipe down pens or other surfaces.
- Pre-register participants and cap attendance according to state laws. We asked participants to pre-register and show their ticket, which we collected at the registration table. We capped the number of participants to 50 because that was New York State’s maximum capacity at the time. We chose an open house format so participants were continuously moving through the room without lingering, and of course, masks were required. Another option is to organize different times for entry to allow for more participants without exceeding the mandated capacity at any one time. Lastly, each person filled out a form confirming that they had no Covid symptoms and included their contact information for any contract tracing purposes. We kept the forms on hand until the end of the required time period.
- Monitor foot traffic to minimize contact. We set up the flow of traffic where people entered through one set or doors and followed a series of arrows to exit through another set of doors, creating a one-way foot traffic to minimize close contact among attendees. We spaced out the stations so that individuals could maintain their distance. If you choose to conduct a traditional meeting as opposed to an open house, secure a spacious room and place each chair six feet apart.
- Set up a simultaneous live stream option for those who wish to stay home. If you decide to hold an in-person meeting, you can offer a live stream option so people can tune in from the comfort of their own homes. In the case of our in-person open house, we offered a separate virtual event to present and allow for asynchronous participant comments.
It is always necessary to check with NYS guidelines prior to planning a meeting and be prepared with a back-up plan should you need to cancel or pivot due to new Covid restrictions.
On a positive note, as more people receive the vaccine, we are hopeful that the return to in-person meetings is close at hand. As public engagement specialists, we yearn to be back on the ground to connect with the public and interact with communities. We know now that there will always be a place and time for virtual meetings and even though we are nearing the one-year mark of the lack of social gatherings, life hasn’t stopped and important projects are moving forward!