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Recommendations for Meetings in a COVID-19 World

  • May 12, 2020

COVID-19 has disrupted American Mensa’s meetings and test sessions. As we move forward, it is critical that those planning events and test sessions are prepared to give members and prospects the confidence that in-person meetings are safe experiences.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all Americans wear cloth face coverings in public settings, particularly in areas where social distancing measures are hard to maintain. According to the CDC, face coverings can help slow the spread of the virus and keep people who do not know they have COVID-19 from transmitting it to others.

American Mensa Recommends the following:

  • Follow all local, state, and national regulations and “reopen” plans. (Each state is developing and implementing its own plan, and it’s important to follow those guidelines for each phase and dates as you plan.)
  • Follow CDC recommendations for safe interactions.
  • Require all attendees to wear masks and take prevention measures for the safety of all.

Factors to Consider When Planning Events

Choosing a virtual vs. in-person event: Can your event be held electronically or virtually? While virtual or digital meetings and events are highly recommended, we realize some can’t be held electronically, so please use your best judgment when deciding on in-person events.

Picking a venue/location
  • Was the venue open/used during the spread of COVID-19?
  • When was it last cleaned/disinfected, and what disinfecting protocols are in place? Seek answers to how often common areas and frequent touch-points are disinfected, as well as if the venue will supply soap, hand sanitizer, hand-washing stations, trash cans, etc.
  • Do the venue or room layouts allow for safe distancing? Please consider crowd density and refer to state and local regulations for event capacities and distancing protocols. In addition, it is strongly recommended that events not be held in private residences because of the potential for a home to become contaminated with so many guests entering.
Considerations for attendees
  • Think about your attendee demographics — age and pre-existing conditions, for example, need to be considered — when organizing and hosting an event.
  • Communications should discourage attendance by anyone who is feeling sick or at risk. Provide information on symptoms. Plan how emergency/cancellation information will be communicated.
  • Will you screen attendees upon entering? Will your Local Group provide hand sanitizer, face masks, tissues, and/or gloves? (Please note that the National Office is unable to provide these items to Local Groups.)
  • It is recommended that groups perform basic wellness checks of attendees before they enter and when they leave the event space. Amazon has a selection of contactless thermometers available for screening. (These are examples of what is available and not a recommendation for one product over another.)
Hospitality, Food, and Beverage
  • Review the banquet/catering safety and cleanliness plan.
  • Review state and local guidelines for food service.
  • Consider serving individually packaged food such as boxed/bag meals and water bottles.
  • Avoid serving food where multiple hands will touch the food or serving utensils.
  • Consider staggering food service times to avoid overcrowding.

Provide health Information: Much of this information is already online — for example, websites for city, county, state, and national health authorities will contain current restrictions for your area and group size; in addition, the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contain a wealth of health information. Accordingly, develop a list of local COVID-19 testing facilities for attendees who ask, and develop a plan in case of illness during your meeting.

Before, During, and After

Before: Meet with facility operations to develop contingency and communication plans that address COVID-19 scenarios that could impact the meeting. Note the efforts already in place and communicate them to attendees. Likewise, gather prevention supplies such as face masks, soap, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, tissues, and alcohol tissues. (Some items are still scarce; use your best judgment on what you can obtain in your area.)

Stay informed and updated on local and national COVID-19 news. Disseminate information to members/testing prospects on safety precautions, COVID-19 symptoms, safe distancing, and safe alternatives to shaking hands, hugging, and high-fiving. Discourage attendance by anyone not feeling well or anyone who thinks they might have been exposed. (Establish and communicate your refund policy.) Create a quarantine zone and plan of action for anyone who might become ill at the event.

During: Ensure that recommendations for Hospitality and food/beverage are in place. Display signs, table tents, or posters reminding participants preventative measures are encouraged. Frequently remind attendees of preventive measures (no hugging or hand shaking, safe distancing, etc.), and ensure access to hand-washing facilities, hand sanitizer, and tissues.

Separate anyone who is sick from the rest of the group — place them in a quarantine zone — and assist them with contacting local health authorities. If your group has provided face masks or if attendees have their own, ensure they are worn at all times.

Afterward: Review lessons learned with the facility coordinator and other planners, developing new necessary additions for future events. Continue to monitor health agencies for further guidelines. Request that attendees notify organizers if they develop symptoms within two weeks of the event, and notify other attendees accordingly.

Special Considerations for Testing Sessions

A few Proctors and Testing Coordinators have asked about liability waivers and whether requiring test-takers to sign hold-harmless agreements would limit Mensa’s, or the testing venue’s, liability as it pertains to coronavirus transmission. These kinds of waivers are typically ineffectual and not generally enforceable. Asking candidates or members to sign a waiver will not negate liability. Rather, it’s critical to ensure that all CDC and facility guidelines, and local, county, state, and federal meeting restrictions and guidelines for occupancy restrictions and safe distancing are being followed.

  • It is recommended that each proctor have an adequate stockpile of prevention supplies: face masks, hand sanitizer, tissues, disinfecting wipes, gloves. (Remember that the National Office is unable to provide these items.) Resources are still scarce in some areas, so use your best judgment to provide what can be easily sourced in your area.
  • Prior to the session, require testers to pre-purchase a voucher on our website, and require a test reservation/registration (no walk-ins). Communicate safety requirements and expectations to prospects. Require faces masks be worn and communicate ahead of time if they will be provided or if testers must bring their own.
  • Allow test-takers to bring their own pencils and scratch paper — you will need to visually inspect these items before the test to make sure they are acceptable for use.
  • Screen test-takers by asking if they have experienced any symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19. Consider a forehead temperature scan.
  • Ensure that tables/desks and test-takers are spaced at least six feet apart. Ensure safe distancing while entering and exiting and during breaks. (Have test-takers enter the room one at a time.) Many states and municipalities have rules about the percentage of occupancy in public places, so ensure that you follow those guidelines as they pertain to spacing and that you get an accurate room count.
  • Wipe all surfaces (tables, chairs, etc.) with disinfecting wipes if not already done by the facility. For peace of mind, allow candidates to sanitize their own spaces if they wish to do so. (This will help reduce some of the external stressors we hope test-takers can avoid when testing.)
  • Ask test-takers to wash their hands before entering room. Provide information on proper hand-washing techniques.
  • Proctors should wear gloves while distributing and collecting testing supplies.
Special Considerations for Youth Events

It’s important to emphasize social distancing and safety measures to all attendees. Children can be impulsive and forget that hugs, high-fives, and handshakes are potentially dangerous when they see their friends. Avoid activities and games that will put children into proximity with attendees who aren’t in the same household.

For virtual events, there are certain additional considerations:

  • Do not publish a meeting link or information publicly. Keeping that info on your private Gifted Youth channel (and preferably only in emails to GY) will help prevent Zoom and other presentations from being disrupted by uninvited attendees.
  • Do not list names or other identifying information, such as GY rosters, on screens. Likewise, do not allow kids to share their personal information. (If they want to connect with another child, they can do that after the meeting.)
  • Remember, you are visiting, digitally, another person’s home, where situations might differ from what you expect or where you may encounter background sights or sounds not meant to be seen or heard.
  • For virtual meetings, use the same rules that apply for in-person meetings — for example, there should be two unrelated adults, one being a Mensan, and there should be no private chats/communications with Young Mensans. Safety rules remain the same, and so are the policies in place to keep us safe and to prevent a child from feeling singled out or left out.