Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

13 Feb 2022, 9:00 a.m.

Conferences: Ask Your Venues And Hotels About Ventilation

COVID-19 is airborne. That means that good ventilation in buildings reduces transmission. So when I'm thinking about going to an in-person event,* I want to know whether the hotel, restaurant, or convention venue has improved ventilation and air filtering since the pandemic started. This is especially important if participants will remove our masks while eating or presenting talks.

Conference attendees have the power to ask our event organizers for this information, and event organizers have the power to ask - and pressure - venues about it! Good ventilation and filtering ought to be a selling point, and if big customers like event planners ask about it, then it'll become one.

Example: PyCon US (April 27-May 3, 2022) has opened registration. To help me decide which conference hotel to stay in, I emailed PyCon to ask:

I'm trying to choose a hotel partly based on its COVID protocols and risk mitigation. A few questions about that:

  1. Given that COVID is airborne, what is the Hilton doing to ensure good ventilation? I looked at and and and saw a lot about cleaning surfaces but could not find info about whether they have improved filtering for air in the guest rooms, for instance, with HEPA filters, since March 2020.
  2. Similarly, what is the Marriott doing for ventilation? At I see "We are using air purifying systems that are effective against viruses in the air and on surfaces." Has the SLC Marriott in particular improved air filtration in its HVAC system since March 2020?
  3. Relatedly: I see that one of the key amenities listed for the Marriott is "Opening windows" or "Room Windows Open". Do all the Marriott guest rooms have windows that open to allow fresh air in from outside?

(I also asked about masking policies in the hotels and in Salt Lake City, since the Marriott hotel info said their rules would depend on local laws/ordinances.)

Kudos to PyCon! They asked their health consultant to look into these questions and updated their health and safety page with a report on the hotels, local rules, local statistics, and so on. The Hilton attests to high filtration standards for their ventilation, and the consultant is looking into the situation at the Marriott.

Lots of companies try to impress you by saying they've increased how often or how thoroughly they clean surfaces. That's great for catching fewer colds, but COVID is airborne, so we need to be asking how often and how thoroughly they're cleaning the air. I'd love to see air exchange rates, CO2 monitoring, and similar statistics and thresholds in the "please come back, look how clean and safe we are" ads.

Feel free to copy my wording to ask your event organizers about ventilation!

* And for several reasons -- health, fatigue, climate impact, national borders, cost, scheduling, etc. -- in-person may not be an option, for me and many others. This post isn't about that but I'm aware.