2021 Annual Meeting Update

Current Safety Protocols and Flexibility for Participation

At this time, we continue to plan for an in-person Annual Meeting even as we evaluate the science and public health data weekly and continue to look at every option. We recognize, too, that members with health concerns, accessibility challenges, and travel restrictions are overburdened and disproportionately affected. These are major factors in our planning. For now, we are writing to inform you of our present considerations, plans, and protocols. 

The recent surge in Covid-19 cases brought about by the increasing predominance of the Delta variant in the United States and around the globe has increased the uncertainty surrounding how the pandemic will affect the 2021 Annual Meeting. While the increasing Covid numbers over the past weeks are of deep concern, evidence suggests that vaccines remain highly effective. In recent weeks, transmission numbers in Bexar County, Texas have begun to fall, and most models predict that they will continue to do so in the coming weeks. 

These improvements coupled with additional preventative measures like masking, and the increased air flow and filtration systems already implemented by the various properties that will host the meeting, encourage us as we seek to provide an Annual Meeting that is as safe as possible. 

To do this, some special protocols will be necessary this year. We are consulting with Epistemix, a professional firm that specializes in developing data-driven models for safe events, to develop dynamic plans for these protocols. These are likely to include:

  • All in-person attendees must either be fully vaccinated (i.e., two weeks past two shots of an mRNA vaccine or one shot of a single-dose vaccine) or provide proof of a negative test dated no earlier than November 16th. Registrants will be given, in future communication, information about how they can verify their vaccination in a secure, private way.
  • All attendees are required to wear masks in all public spaces, including meeting rooms, with two exceptions:  1) Presenters may remove their mask when they are making their presentation; 2) Attendees may remove their mask when they are actively eating or drinking.
  • Meeting rooms are set with reduced capacity in order to increase space between seats. When attending a programming session, attendees must sit in an available seat. If all seats are taken, the session is full. Standing/sitting around the walls and in the aisles is not permitted during sessions. The front row of seats will be reserved for session presenters and those with accessibility needs so that additional space is available compared to a traditional head table.
  • Hand sanitizer stations are available throughout the meeting facilities.
  • Employees of the facilities hosting the meeting are required by those facilities to be masked. Many facilities also implement temperature checks at the start of each shift.
  • Meeting facilities are being cleaned and sanitized nightly. The Henry B. González Convention Center is a GBAC STAR facility.
  • The facilities have invested heavily in HVAC systems that filter the air, and mix in substantial amounts of fresh air as the air is cycled through the system.

In addition to consulting with Epistemix, we continue to work closely with facility management as well as civic and public health authorities in San Antonio to monitor guidance as the meeting gets closer. The above protocols are subject to change in light of updated guidance. 

We recognize that even with the measures described above, many members will not be comfortable or able to travel to San Antonio and attend an in-person meeting. We also recognize that travel to the United States from some parts of the world remains restricted. For those members who will not be in San Antonio, we continue to provide options for virtual attendance and participation.  As of Friday, September 10th, we have over 6,000 people register with 81% registered for the in-person meeting. 

As we noted in our announcement about holding a dual format meeting, we are not able to provide truly hybrid sessions (i.e., a mix of in-person and remote, live-video presentations) due to the challenges – both logistical and financial (an additional $4,000,000) – for a meeting at our scale. However, we will be able to offer the opportunity for all presenters, whether of virtual or in-person sessions, to pre-record presentations and make those recordings available to all who register for the meeting. We hope that this will be particularly useful to presenters scheduled in in-person sessions who decide they cannot travel. Details on how to record and upload pre-recorded presentation videos will be sent to presenters soon. As was the case last year, all paper presenters will have the option to share presentation documents like handouts and full-text papers through the app/online planner. 

We will continue to be as flexible as possible making adjustments to the programming as the meeting approaches. Program unit chairs should contact Robert Puckett about any changes and updates needed to sessions. Attendees may make changes to registrations through October 21st without any change fees. Presenters must be registered in order to remain on the program. Presenters planning in absentia presentations in an in-person session, including pre-recorded presentations, may register for the virtual-only meeting if they are not planning to travel to San Antonio. 

Over the last month, the guidance for dealing effectively with the pandemic has shifted dramatically. In the two months between now and the start of the meeting, it is likely to shift again. We will continue to develop the best possible plans to meet the needs of members in safe, responsible ways and will keep you informed as quickly as possible regarding any changes.

The AAR’s leadership values the range of perspectives that have been shared with us concerning the Annual Meeting, and we continue to work hard to find the best path forward for all the organization’s members. These are certainly challenging times and we are grateful to be in this together.  We all are the AAR.

Marla Frederick, AAR President
Mayra Rivera, AAR President-Elect
Amir Hussain, AAR Vice President