There are several disciplinary organizations personal conferences resumed for the last year. And thanks to a combination of careful planning and luck, they have largely not turned into a super-spread event.
Despite this, the threat of COVID-19 at mass gatherings indoors remains very real: just ask the 1,900 human-computer interaction scientists who gathered in New Orleans from April 30 to May 5 – or at least those who gave a positive coronavirus test during and after the conference. Some are easy to find and they shared their status and experiences on Twitter under the hashtag meeting, # CHI2022. Others privately report to those with whom they have been in close contact during the event.
So how did the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Association become a hotspot for COVID-19? The event organizers demanded evidence of vaccination and tested it through a third party; mandatory masks, except when eating, drinking or presenting; and social distancing during meetings is planned. Participants also agreed to self-monitor symptoms and report positive tests to the Parent Computing Association as part of registration. And with about 1,900 additional participants choosing the virtual component of the hybrid conference, the face-to-face meeting was about double its typical size before the pandemic.
Cliff Lampe, professor of information at the University of Michigan and chairman of CHI 2022, said the event required all serious intervention except evidence of negative tests on COVID-19, due to concerns about logistics and the cost of such tests. So, again, what went wrong? Lampe said he was hesitant to play in the “epidemiologist’s chair”, but noted “the permeability of the conference.”
“There were a lot of our members [New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival] on the weekends, and you couldn’t go into a coffee shop or restaurant without seeing our members, ”he said. “And, you know, my mask discipline fell apart a little bit when I went to dinner after the event – things like that.”
One conference participant, who agreed to share his experience anonymously, said the conference environment itself provided some opportunity for transfer, as “during the break we will chat in a larger conference room, drink coffee and have a snack, and sit together to talk about where people were mostly unmasked. ”
The participant said he experienced some flu-like symptoms on May 3, but they did not suspect it was COVID-19 until they started hearing talk of other positive cases.
Lampe said he learned of the positive cases only on the last day of the conference, but as a volunteer organizer, he did not have access to previous reports that could have been made directly to the Parent Computing Association, due to concerns about medical privacy.
“Was it worth attending in person?”
A team of scientists on human-computer interaction in the fall unsuccessfully appealed to the organizers of CHI 2022 to hold a completely remote conference to promote justice and access during a pandemic. Among them was Jennifer Mankoff, Professor Richard E. Ladner at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Technology at the University of Washington, who reluctantly decided to attend the hybrid conference in person. У record about her experience there, Mankoff said: “After all, was it worth attending in person? I absolutely benefited from the time and opportunity to communicate. But depending on whether I test positive, the weight may shift the other way. ”
Although, she continued, “my belief that CHI was not supposed to be personal is solid. My opposition to personal CHI has never been about my personal gain – it was about justice for all people who would like to participate and risk for the participants. Both are still of concern. Especially if we move away from innovations that convey the benefits of face-to-face conferences for remote participants. ”
Another personal participant who rejected the CHI 2022 virtual option because of concerns that it would provide unequal experiences (e.g., prioritizing questions to personal visitors over remote participants), and who has since given a positive result on COVID-19, said wanted the conference organizers to know that “we need to give preference to remote and virtual experiences and leave personal meetings to regional organizers. It’s safer and fairer for everyone. ” (Of course, many scholars say they prefer personal conferences. CHI 2022 has also managed to become almost truly a hybrid, removing technological and financial barriers that other organizations said they were prevented from presenting fully hybrid activities during the pandemic – although Lampe said it was unclear whether the model would be sustainable for the same reasons.)
It is unclear how many participants gave a positive result. Lampe said he and other organizers would like to talk to participants, but a survey of scientists on the issue also raises concerns about medical confidentiality.
As for the lessons learned, Lampe said: “I am glad that we offered a strong option online because we knew it was a risk. And, you know, for some people, this risk is realized. So I would say that offering strong options online for the near future is very important. And the other thing is that we need to have, as a conference group, the best way to keep track of these things. ”
“Was it worth it? Would we do it again? ” Lamp thought. “I would leave it to each participant to decide for themselves.”