Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Is the Coronavirus going to affect the NightScaper Conference?

As of March 9, 2020

QUESTION: Is the Coronavirus going to affect the NightScaper Conference?
Short Answer: No—unless things change dramatically.

Long Answer: Our conference only has 13 people attending from outside of the United States. Eight from Canada, one from Chile, one from Australia, one from the Dominican Republic, one from Switzerland, and one from Finland. None of these countries are on the CDC restricted travel list or even on the Sustained Risk Level (see map above).

All of our other attendees are from within the USA, where the CDC currently has only 423 cases of COVID-19, and these have been isolated.

The state of Utah has two confirmed or diagnosed cases of COVID-19. In both cases, the persons made contact with the virus while traveling outside the United States.

At this time, NO FEDERAL RESTRICTIONS ARE IN PLACE to prevent meetings and travel in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the current risk to the general American public is low. So while events in Asia, Iran and Italy may be taking reasonable measures according to World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, the U.S. shouldn’t expect much of an impact for the time being.

QUESTION: How serious is the coronavirus?

ANSWER: On March 9th, President Trump Tweeted: "...last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!"

Compare that with what Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview the previous week with NBC News that the coronavirus poses unique threats beyond those of the common flu. “When you have a brand new virus in which no one has had any experience before, that gives the virus kind of an open roadway to spread,” Fauci said.

Others, like Dr. Sonia Y. Angell, California Department of Public Health Director and State Health Officer, feel differently: "Coronaviruses are responsible for the common cold, so it's something that all of you may also be quite familiar with. Because of the current outbreak that originated in China is a new member of this family, our experience to date, though, is that most people -- more than 85 percent -- will have mild or no symptoms."

Somewhere, in between these opinions lies the real truth. Either way, we need to stop the reckless overreaction based on panic and not science.

At this time we are moving forward with the event as planned and are monitoring the situation. We wish to stay in constant contact with all attendees and suppliers to update you on any changes. In the meantime, check out the COVID-19 resources available at John Hopkins Medicine and what you can do to protect yourself.

QUESTION: What if the CDC places a travel restriction on my country or travel to/from Utah just before the conference begins?

ANSWER: Should any of these travel restrictions take place on or before April 19, 2020, the conference will refund 75% of the conference registration fees paid by those affected. Should CDC travel restrictions take place between April 20 and May 19, 2020, the conference will refund 50% of the conference registration fees paid by those affected.

Question: Why won't the conference refund 100% of my registration fee, if my travel is restricted to the conference?

Answer: Actually, our refund policy is quite generous within the event and travel industry. Many events, airlines and hotels offer no refunds for cancellations that are beyond their control.

The conference has already prepaid or partially paid for many items that pertain to this conference, such as the venue and its many speakers. As we draw closer to the conference, more and more expenses have to be paid and cannot be refunded to us. Both of us will have to bear some of costs of this disease, if it spreads too quickly.

Travel Insurance and COVID-19: Most travel insurance will not cover a cancellation since travel insurance is "designed to cover unforeseen events," and coronavirus is considered a "foreseen event" unless travelers purchased the insurance before a designated date. As of February 3, 2020, both the CDC and the WHO have recognized 2019 Novel Coronavirus as an Epidemic.

A comprehensive travel insurance policy typically needs to be purchased within 15 days of when a deposit on the trip is made. This policy allows travelers to get reimbursed for up to 75 percent of their trip costs. Most travel insurance policies can cost between 7 percent and 10 percent of the trip price, however a policy that allows travelers to cancel a trip for any reason can cost about 40 percent more. Here is some additional advice on travel insurance.

March 14 Update

On March 12, our Utah Governor, Gary Herbert, limited mass gatherings in state to 100 people. "...we are eliminating mass gatherings above 100 for the next two weeks beginning Monday, March 16,” he said. He also asked people over the age of 60 and those with compromised immune systems to avoid gatherings of more than 20 people.

President Trump added travel restriction from most European countries, and later added the United Kingdom and Ireland. In the United States, many states, universities and large companies are starting to take this proactive approach to limiting the spread of the virus.

The main byword right now for controlling the spread of the coronavirus is "Social Distancing." One the best article I've seen came out two days ago, written by Tomas Pueyo and published in MediumCoronavirus: Why You Must Act Now.

This is a great article on the importance of social distancing and timing. It has some interesting stats and graphs that my scientist friend, Eric Benedetti knows to be off axis and filled with a lot of hyperbole (see his great comments below)—however, the reason for my referencing this article is to show the benefits that can come from social distancing in stemming the spread of COVID-19.

If Tomas and the experts are right, the majority of our coronavirus problems could be over by May when we have our NightScaper Conference! Using the same timing model, our most vulnerable period for exposure could be over the next few weeks. Hence, the reason our Utah state governor has asked for this two week limitation on gatherings.

We applaud social distancing efforts that are being made to help control the spread of the coronavirus. These measures may be required for a few weeks or a few months. Time will tell how well this works.

Our friends over at Outsiders Photo just announced the postponement (until March 2021) of their March 20-22, 2020 conference in Kanab because of this limitation. We still have about two months to get past this pandemic, so we'll wait at least a month before we make any postponement decisions for our NightScaper Conference.

Pending announcement set for April 30: We will make a final decision on April 30th as to whether we will go ahead with the conference as planned or postpone it until May 12-14, 2021.

Waiting until April 30th gives us six weeks to see if conditions will improve and restrictions will be lifted. This also gives people almost three weeks to make final preparations for the conference or cancel their travel and lodging plans. We are working on a refund package, should some attendees not be able to postpone to 2021.

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  1. My friend, Eric Benedetti, a scientist up at the University of Utah, shared this information with me:

    Unfortunately I've seen this article making the rounds, it contains some information that is not correct, a lot of graphs with incorrect axis, and a whole lot of hyperbole. I just sat through the epidemiology and pathology Grand rounds presentation by the UofU's chief epidemiologist and leading pathologists, it was a fantastic presentation that clearly spelled out the history of the virus and the current world-wide status of the pandemic. I need people to be very clear on this so we can limit the hysterics and actually spread information that allows people to make sound, logical choices. This is a virus that is dangerous, in terms of pathogenicity and rates of transmission it's slightly worse than the flu (and it's R-naught value is close to the very bad flu season we had a year/two ago), but not as bad as the 1918 flu. In terms of it's fatality rate it's around 0.6%, not the 2.5-2.8% most places are reporting. The 1918 flu had a fatality rate of 2.5%, the season flu has a rate of 0.1% on average. So about 5 to 6x as bad as the normal flu, but about a fifth as bad as the 1918 flu.

    The reality is that this will spread and given the rates experienced by China and others that have the virus under control IF the government's of countries currently experiencing large growth act fast we'd see a containment of the virus in the next 4-8 weeks. Testing needs to increase dramatically, here at the U we have ARUP laboratories (actually right across the street from the facility I work at in research park), they've developed a test that can be scaled to large sample numbers which the FDA has given approval for as of yesterday. As a community people need to limit large number gatherings and people ABSOLUTELY must be vigilant with hand washing and general hygiene measures (cover your mouth!). People must also not overload clinics and hospitals, if you feel "sick" and you are not over the age of 60 or do not have pre-existing cardiac, pulmonary, or immunocompromised issues than do not swarm to your doctor. Symptoms for 90% of the population will be like a cold, incubation period for the virus is 5 days, it will clear up and you do not need to go to a hospital.

    And if anyone is actually wondering, 5-10% of infected individuals will experience diarrhea, please don't hold toilet paper, you aren't going to need it.

    1. No one possibly knows what the real r-0 (pronounced R-Naught) is because no one possibly has any idea how many caught the disease.

      We can say 100% without a doubt the number of cases in the the US is vast underreported simply because of failure to test.

      When testing does start as it should cases will skyrocket.

      Those dissing this as no worse than the Flu are seriously mistaken. Yes, most will survive with mild symptoms. But a flood of serious cases risks filling every hospital bed in the country.

      That is what happened in Italy, and it is naive to believe it CANNOT happen here. It most assuredly can, and in fact was guaranteed to until states started taking matters into their own hands by closing restaurants and bars and shutting down all large events.

      If this conference happens, it will be because of these extraordinary measures, not because those fluffing this off as no worse than the Flu were correct.

      The problem is The problem is not whether you will recover. The problem is whether you spread it to somebody who doesn't."

      Yes, if you are young you are unlikely to have serious repercussion. Those you spread it to might not be so lucky.

      I wrote about that here:

      I am an economic reporter who has been on top of this from the beginning.

      The CDC was hugely behind the curve.

      Yes, you can find any opinion you want, but most in medicine treat this very seriously.

      Canada just banned outsiders. The EU is about to do the same. We might easily see domestic restrictions in the US.

      Parts of NY are in lockdown mode.

      Illinois Mandates Closure of All Bars and Restaurants Until March 30.

      More states will do the same and given the very poor US testing the number of cases is nearly sure to rise so these end-of month restrictions will likely continue.

      It is a guess, and likely not a good one that weather fixes this in a week.

      I still plan on attending, but mentally prepare for states to continue these bans for a lot longer than most think.

      On a lighter note, please check out my Photography Website.


      Hope to see everyone in Kanab!

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