Cancelation of 2020 Annual Conference.
March 16, 2020
I again thank you for your patience as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds and the impact on our annual conference and the organization. As mentioned in our previous messages we were keeping track of the incidents occurring nationally, in the state of Washington, and in Seattle. We knew by February that our conference was likely to be cancelled. And while many members requested notification of the conference being cancelled, due to contractual issues and possible financial obligations with the hotel, we were unable to state the annual conference officially as cancelled. If we had declared it as cancelled in February, NACCS would have been financially responsible for $128,000, which could have effectively bankrupted the organization.
Late February and early March we contacted the hotel about rescheduling the conference but management was unwilling to discuss alternative options. Their response was that the City of Seattle was safe and that the hotel was deep cleaning their facility. Meanwhile our own institutions started to place non-essential travel bans and other restrictions. Board members were not only dealing with their own personal and professional pressures but they were also considering the consequences to the organization in the event that the hotel would not reconsider a rescheduling or postponement and the financial impact if changes were agreed on. This said, we absolutely did not want our membership to feel compelled to travel to a high risk area with a growing number of community-acquired COVID-19 infections. Furthermore, some Board members had indicated that they would not be able to attend due to their own health conditions or those of their loved ones. We were deeply conflicted on what and/or when we could communicate with the membership as we waited on the hotel to respond to our request and as members were demanding a response.
Once Governor Islee proclaimed the ban, we were finally able to enact our contractual language which would release us of our contract. Today, March 16th, NACCS has officially been released of any contract with the Sheraton and the physical 2020 annual conference is cancelled. We will continue to experience the impact of the growing COVID-19 pandemic in our personal and professional contexts and we must begin to imagine and work toward alternatives that are in keeping with our mission.
Now that we can explore next steps, we request input into how we might develop alternative avenues for scholarly exchange, networking and community building in the near term. The pandemic may preclude many things, but not the urgent work of our community. We wish to honor the vibrant research and preparation already completed. The Board has been fielding numerous suggestions and offers of support as we adjust course. We are coalescing around ideas for a virtual conference and repository or papers/video recordings. In the next few days expect a poll to gather your interest and thoughts on possible options.
NACCS has incurred more than $10,000 in conference-related expenses the organization cannot recover. Some of you have graciously offered to forego reimbursement for your conference registration to support the organization during this fiscal year, which we greatly appreciate. Ordinarily we do not offer refunds on conference registration, however, given these extenuating circumstances, we will reimburse (minus the financial service fees already incurred). Details will follow but we have no timeline as to when refunds will be issued and ask that you continue to be patient with us as we create a plan.
Further details will continue to follow. Until then, please continue to take care of yourselves and find meaningful ways to navigate all of the demands on your lives.
Grateful for this scholarly community and in solidarity,
Karleen Pendleton Jimenez, Ph.D.
NACCS Chair 2019-2020
March 6 -NACCS Covid-19 Communication:
Since our last communication many new accounts have unfolded in this public health crisis our communities are encountering.
We have received a few direct requests for information directly with people asking whether there will be a NACCS 2020 in Seattle. Some folks have written to indicate that because they or their loved ones have compromised health conditions they are worried, two have indicated that they will not attend the conference. One person has written asking us to please carry on with our plans to host the conference because they are confident that the health crisis will not affect us.
The members of the board have been discussing best options for NACCS while keeping in mind that the most important consideration is to the wellbeing of our members and their communities. We are all trying to get the best information to weigh our next steps including how to communicate the multiple layers we must navigate in considering what to do that is in the best interest of everyone and also for NACCS.
Primarily, I have been embroiled in information seeking to make evidence-based recommendations that include considerations in three areas: 1) restrictions of a rapidly morphing public health crisis, 2) risk aversion, and 3) event cancellation.
To this effect, on Wednesday I participated in a national call that included leaders from the CDC, NIH, Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation, the FAA, Customs and Border Protection, and Tourism Economics. I learned about the multiple offices and how they are handling the situation in their effort to determine responses that take into account multiple areas of mitigation. I also learned, or was reminded that in 2003 we faced another such situation with SARS. We were planning our Los Angeles – Biltmore Hotel Conference. We went into a period where the news did not unfold in the manner that it does today with the internet and social media communications. NACCS was beginning to change in 2003 and I would say that we are stronger each year despite many hardships and disagreements. Hearing the comparison of SARS and Covid-19 is sobering. One thing that is important is that the Presidential Proclamation 9984 on January 31 made 11 passenger airports points of concern among them Seattle/Tacoma, but also JFK, SFO, O’Hare, LAX, DFW, and Newark…these are airports many of us would be affected by in our movement within the country. Thirteen states and territories have reported local transmission hotspots (and those are growing rapidly). Whereas initially the response was containment and screening, now it is treatment and prevention.
I also have been communicating with both Seattle Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Sheraton Grand Hotel management about what and when they will make decisions that will allow us to act in a manner that addresses our member concerns and also NACCS financial responsibilities based on our contract.
As of this afternoon, the city of Seattle continues to say that they are “open for business and ready to welcome visitors.” Simultaneously, the Public Health-Seattle & King County provide updates on the official count of people afflicted by Covid-19 as standing at 59, with 11 deaths.
We want to be absolutely transparent with you particularly as a few (2 of our members) are sending us statements from their other academic organizational decisions to cancel events (specifically AERA in San Francisco). AERA is in the position to cancel in part because California has also declared a state of emergency and perhaps because it has infinitely more resources available to them with their strong financial standing. The very first inquiry about where NACCS stood came also as a result of a cancelation of another meeting in Las Vegas. And every day there are more and more cancellations of large events announced from a variety of sources. Since we began to monitor this situation entire states have declared emergency conditions, and the University of Washington has cancelled its in-person classes. The CSU system has suspended overseas study programs, and has today announced a curtailment of unnecessary travel and business as usual. One of the things to keep in mind for us is that the conferences that cancelled earlier did so in part because their attendance includes greater numbers from international travelers. But again, things have changed and newer cancellations are resulting from the greater numbers of exposures being announced as is the case for the state of Washington and King County.
Like many of our community people – for whom not going to work is not an option, and for whom taking extreme precautions is not possible, NACCS is not in the position to announce cancellation without considering the consequences. In particular the economic impact. To host our annual gathering we enter into a contractual obligation that requires that we hold our event as specified long before the date. We rely upon registration, exhibitors, and filling our room block to meet our financial obligation. Since 2003 when NACCS became the planner for our conference we have ensured that our contract has an impossibility (or force majure) clause that allows us to terminate our agreement without liability when certain circumstances beyond our control occur. Examples of such circumstances could be acts of God, war, terrorism, government regulations, or other emergencies.
Because we must be mindful of the standing of NACCS we have been working with the hotel to come to some agreement about the contract to address risk aversion and event cancellation. It is our endeavor to keep you informed while negotiating many moving scenarios – and as usual, it is one or two of us doing this while also doing our full-time jobs (as professors). I want to let you know that we are not ignoring the situation.
We have had Corona-virus on our radar since December and we have been staying on top of it. We are trying to do the best we can to inform you while sifting through the morass of information, knowledge, and feelings that are part of our days collectively.
At this point, right now, NACCS 2020 continues to be on. Once we get to a place where we are able to find a way to settle our agreement with the hotel in a manner that does not do financial damage to NACCS we will announce a formal position that can also give you peace of mind to act in your own best interest and that of your loved ones. I have faith that we will be able to take the best decision for all of us as members of NACCS, but also for NACCS itself. We must ensure that there is a NACCS after 2020.
It is my job, as Executive Director of NACCS to ensure that I take every step possible to shepherd NACCS for the future, and to give the best advice to our board. NACCISTAS, this is a call to you to ask you to continue to be patient with us and to trust that we will get to a place where we can announce anything other than NACCS 2020 is still on. Meanwhile, however, I implore that you act in your own best interest if you need to tell yourself or others that you will not attend NACCS because Washington is a state that has been the most adversely affected state by Covid-19, do it. Please take care of yourselves and keep NACCS in your best thoughts as well.
Executive Director of NACCS
This is our rationale:
We encourage everyone to follow official guidance to travelers as posted by the CDC , the Washington State Health Department, and the Visit Seattle websites. We recommend that you review the FAQs posted by the CDC, Visit Seattle and the Washington State Department of Health for additional information.
Center for Disease Control: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
FAQs Visit Seattle: https://visitseattle.org/travel-advisory/faqs-on-covid-19/
Washington State Department of Health: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/Coronavirus
We will continue to monitor the situation and issue further communication as needed. You can contact Dr. Julia Curry, NACCS Executive Director for any questions, email@example.com.