I am sad to announce that we cannot hold TPI’s Aspen East, scheduled for October 16-18, in person. Instead, while it will not be the same, we are planning a series of substantive and fun virtual events at the time we would have held the conference so that we don’t lose the interesting content already planned. More on that in the coming weeks.
When we moved the TPI Aspen Forum from August in Aspen to October in Charlottesville, it seemed plausible that COVID-19 had peaked in the US and would begin to decline, at least enough that a carefully planned in-person event could be safe by October. Given recent trends, that is unlikely to be true.
Everybody knows the underlying covid-related reasons for avoiding in-person events, but several details contributed to our decision that the risks were too high.
First, research suggests that the virus spreads most easily indoors. We investigated doing everything outdoors, but cannot guarantee that would be possible. Tents can protect against rain, but to have the benefits of being outdoors they cannot have sides, meaning they would have to be oversized to ensure protection against rain and unable to provide any warmth should the weather be chilly.
Second, a recent Caltech study showed the difficulty of social distancing in auditorium and dining settings. In their simulation, they could fit only 16 people into a 149-person auditorium and only 24 into a 200-person dining room. They used an 8-foot distancing rule rather than a 6-foot distancing rule, but the point remains: any given event space can hold a very small number of people relative to its intended capacity.
Even without a Caltech-level study, some basic math demonstrates how effective social distancing is physically impractical, if not impossible, at a conference the size of ours. Let’s assume that people can converse meaningfully when six feet apart in a space that is unlikely to be quiet. Two people need to stand six feet apart. Easy enough. A conversation with three people requires standing in a triangle with six-foot sides, requiring about 15.6 square feet of floor space. A four-person conversation requires a square with 6 foot sides requiring 36 square feet. As more people enter the group, the shape becomes circular and the square footage required for that conversation increases with the square of the radius. Each conversation group then must be six feet away from any other conversation group.
Third, social distancing in a group that is together for a multiple-day conference is unrealistic even if it is possible. Social distancing is intended to keep people apart. Conferences are intended to bring people together. People want to talk and mingle. It’s human nature and one of the benefits of in-person events.
We truly enjoy hosting the TPI Aspen Forum. We try to challenge attendees in a fun and friendly environment. I always come away from the event exhausted, but full of new ideas, new connections, and new points of view. I hope others do, too.
Given all that, this was not an easy decision to make. But it is the responsible decision.
Please stay safe and well, and we look forward to seeing everyone soon virtually and then welcoming you enthusiastically to the TPI Aspen Forum 2021.
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