What Does COVID Mean for PRINTING United?
We have been receiving a steady stream of inquiries about how the resurgence of COVID and the Delta variant are affecting our plans for the PRINTING United Expo. We would like to share with you our thinking about the decision to move forward with the Expo in Orlando, Fla., Oct. 6-8.
We should state up front there is no way to know exactly how things will unfold. There are mixed signals everywhere and the situation is complex. On the one hand, there is the rising case number of COVID related illness, hospitalizations, and even deaths — overwhelmingly in the unvaccinated populations — an important distinction in our reasoning. Businesses are extending work from home accommodations, and many are now mandating vaccinations as a condition of employment. Governments are re-instituting mask mandates in some areas and, in others, passing laws to prevent them.
On the other hand, restaurants, amusement parks, beaches, airplanes, stadiums, and many other venues are brimming with people, mostly unmasked except where mandated. Vaccinations that had slowed are now picking up again due to the rise in caseloads. In the UK and India, the Delta variant burst onto the scene, but then fell off rapidly after only a couple of months — for reasons that are not entirely clear. We cannot know if the same will happen here.
Just a couple of months ago, when we saw up to three million people a day getting vaccinated, and before the Delta variant arrived, we were certain that the Expo, though certainly not destined to be as big an event as Dallas in 2019, was going to be a well-attended event marking for our industry a coming out of COVID celebration of the highest order. It’s difficult to grasp how much has changed, and yet not changed, due to COVID.
That said, it is not all bad news. While the number of cases is rising, among the unvaccinated and the vaccinated, the number of hospitalizations and deaths is not uniform — primarily due to vaccination. Depending on which study you read, and there are a lot out there, you are 25 times less likely to contract COVID if vaccinated. The CDC recently released the latest data highlighting the fact that 99.9% of vaccinated people do not develop a serious COVID infection. The number of hospitalizations in the vaccinated population is less than 3% of all hospitalizations and the number of vaccinated who die are less than .01% of all deaths. That’s less than one out of one thousand.
To gauge the perception of risk at PRINTING United, we have had a survey in the field for several months about willingness to travel, with specific questions about the Expo. One of the questions is whether the respondent is or will be fully vaccinated by the time of the show. Since July 1, just over 92% said they would be (89% are already fully vaccinated, with another 3% on their way). This rings true, as most of our attendees are business travelers and would certainly be well-disposed to vaccination to mitigate the risks associated with planes, hotels, conferences, business meetings, trade shows and large venues. That the number of vaccinated is larger than the national vaccination rate of 50% makes sense, then. We have also been having regular conversations with the Orlando Conference and Convention Center and they will have all their permanent and temporary staff vaccinated by September 30, and PRINTING United Alliance will also require vaccinations for any of our staff working the Expo.
So, our principle take away is that vaccination works and is the best safeguard for all, and that the overwhelming majority of those at the Expo will be vaccinated. In fact, over 90%. This does not mean that you won’t get COVID, only that if you do, the risk of serious illness is tremendously mitigated.
While the transmissibility of COVID by a vaccinated person is less (recent statistics suggest than one unvaccinated person with the Delta variant might infect 8 or 9, but a vaccinated person only 1 or 2), we understand there are those who have family members who are too young or cannot receive the vaccine for other reasons. Each still needs to weigh the risks accordingly.
From the beginning, we have tried to balance two opposing needs. One, to keep people safe and healthy. And two, helping the industry revive from a COVID induced recession. These two things work against each other. Because the situation is fluid, complex, and unpredictable, it is difficult to know exactly what the best path is. We are not alone. Almost every business is struggling with the same opposing forces to some degree.
As for the Expo itself, it will have a smaller footprint than in Dallas (though still large by trade show standards). Many of the international exhibitors are unable to travel due to current restrictions in place. We had 660 exhibitors in Dallas and will have just short of 600 in Orlando. The difference in net square feet of booths is about 18% smaller. Most of the difference aligning with the international situation and a number whose corporate policy does not yet permit travel to conferences or shows.
We have also been canvassing many of our exhibitors to understand their point of view and gauge their level of comfort with the Expo moving forward. Every exhibitor we spoke to is weighing the same two objectives, safety versus economic recovery. All have said, with appropriate and reasonable mitigation factors in place, they would very much prefer the show to continue. While we have had some cancellations from international exhibitors who are unable to attend, and a few who have corporate policies that forbid travel currently, this is a small fraction of the 595 who are still coming.
For these reasons, we are updating our policy to include all attendees wearing masks at the show while in the Orange County Convention Center, regardless of vaccination status. This is a prudent measure that will help with the goal of safety, while not sacrificing the goal of moving the industry forward. We are also strongly recommending, for their own safety and the health of all attendees, that unvaccinated people do not come to the Expo. Due to recent legislation in Florida, we cannot legally implement a vaccine mandate. However, we also feel that masks, combined with the high number of vaccinated attendees, proof of vaccine is not necessary.
Finally, on the getting back to normal business front, our recent economic survey in July revealed that 60% of the respondents were looking at cap ex investments in the next 12 months. That’s up from 39% just two months prior. That’s a big number. Printers, regardless of COVID, are returning to normal and looking ahead. A place to compare technology and start exploring what they need to get back to business is paramount. For these reasons, suppliers, printers, and the Alliance are best served by holding the Expo. To be able to come to one place, even if there are many others present, is certainly more efficient, and arguably no less safe, than making a dozen different trips to vendors for the same purpose. As all the staff will be vaccinated, we strongly recommend that you consider coming to the Expo only if you are vaccinated.
We continue to monitor closely the latest data, facts, and forecasts. Please be on the lookout for updates in the coming weeks. If conditions on the ground change dramatically, we will revise our mitigation policies accordingly. In either case, we will be hosting the Expo. So go ahead and register for the PRINTING United Expo! This will ensure you get the most up-to-date information sent directly to your inbox.