Welcome to the no handshake zone. Make that no handshakes, no hugs, no phony air kisses, and absolutely no coming within 6 feet zone. Putting on a successful event during a pandemic is challenging but possible. The Hampton Roads Chamber held our first live event in more than 4 months on July 16. Fittingly, this first event honored our small business community with the 2020 Small Business of the Year Awards. We then followed up with a live reception on July 23 and our annual Valor Awards on August 10.
Knowing the multitude of events the Hampton Road Chamber does each year, this may not seem like a great accomplishment. However, 2020 is like no other year, and pulling together live events with strict COVID-19 protocols takes an amazing amount of teamwork and attention to detail.
Instead of just picking a menu off a catering sheet, we work with the venue chefs to determine the food's safest presentation. We make sure there is no communal food, and all food items are covered. While it does not make as lovely a presentation as seeing a fresh from the garden salad at each place, lessening the risk of contamination outweighs the aesthetic.
Setting up a room in a pandemic offers new challenges. The size of the venue’s tables dictates how many guests fit safely. With only 3, 4, or 5 guests at a table set 8-10 feet from the next, it's not pretty, but it is safe.
We work with Hampton Roads Chamber members to secure facemasks, hand sanitizer, and thermal scans to comply with the Center for Disease Control guidelines. The biggest challenge is the transitory nature of Governor Northam's mandates. We had initially invited each honoree for the Valor Awards to bring a guest and their Chief. Days before the event, Governor Ralph Northam set the limit for gatherings in Hampton Roads at 50 people. With 38 first responders set to receive awards, this meant we could not include all the honorees or their guests. That headcount includes servers, AV techs who are live streaming the event, Chamber staff, and sponsors. The Chamber’s COVID-19 protocol officer stood at the door to count every person to ensure we did not exceed 50. We partnered with WTKR for this event and were able to live-stream the ceremony. So, instead of just reaching the 50 people in the room, we reached thousands.
We no longer have group photos. Instead, we mark exact spots on the stage, 6 feet apart, to stand. We do not even hand out the trophies. We place them on a table for the recipient to pick up and hold for the photos. Putting on a live event right now is complicated, but not impossible. Communicate the protocols before, during, and after the event. We set large placards with the event protocols all around the venue. Our staff continually reminds people to stand 6 feet apart, wear a mask, and not do the group selfie.
The Hampton Roads Chamber is always pivoting to the positive. This silver lining is finding new ways to work with our members: a distillery that makes hand sanitizer, a marketing agency that makes masks, our local venues, and production teams. We are reaching new members with virtual streams of our events.
On July 28, 2020, when Governor Northam restricted events in Hampton Roads to 50 people, he said, "This is about stopping the spread of COVID-19 in Hampton Roads. It happens when too many people gather together when too many people are selfish." We are not selfish in Hampton Roads nor at the Hampton Roads Chamber. We are all in this together. We can gather safely if every guest adheres to the CDC protocols and embraces a socially distanced event's new ambiance.