Why I’ve withdrawn from Farpoint Con 2022
This is an open message to my friends and colleagues who plan on attending Farpoint Convention in Hunt Valley, Md., next month (Feb. 25-27).
Though I have been looking forward for some time to seeing you all there, I regret that it currently appears I will not be attending the con.
I was recently made aware that Farpoint’s concom has decided not to require guests, staff, volunteers, or attendees to provide proof of vaccination or a recent (< 72 hours) negative result on a reliable COVID-19 test, per its online statement:
On Tuesday, January 11, I emailed Farpoint via the programming chair, Cindy Woods, to express my concerns and reservations concerning this lax approach to health and safety. My message read, in part:
“Per item 2, I am seriously troubled by the concom’s decision to not require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for attendees, guests, and staff.
“The proffered explanation that this decision was made out of concern about the privacy of attendees’ private health information rings hollow. Many other small, fan-run and volunteer-supported conventions are managing to check vaccination and test status for their attendees without it being an undue burden on them or an imposition on their attendees and guests.
“I would strongly urge the Farpoint team to reconsider this section of its COVID policy immediately, and to plan for verification of attendees’ vaccination statuses and/or recent negative test results.”
Cindy replied that the Farpoint committee intended to discuss the matter again during its next meeting, scheduled for the weekend of January 15-16, and that she would share with them my concerns and inform me of their conclusions.
Their response and final decision was, to be blunt, disappointing. On behalf of the Farpoint concom, Cindy wrote back to me this past Monday, January 17, 2022, with this reply:
“We value your opinion on this issue, and appreciate your candor. Unfortunately, it’s a tough decision to make. With breakthrough infections increasing even among vaccinated persons in the wake of the Delta and Omicron variants, we do not want to send the message to attendees that an all-vaccinated con will be free of Covid. Because the reality is that cannot be guaranteed, especially in a facility that is not requiring vaccinations for guests not attending the convention. Marriott’s policy makes it impossible to establish a safe bubble.
“If people are going to choose to accept the risk of attending a public event—and it is a risk—we want them to understand that risk, and we want them to follow the safety protocols recommended by Maryland and the CDC that stand the best chance of keeping them infection-free: increased sanitation, social distancing and masking. We are implementing these recommendations.”
To say I found this reply discouraging would be an understatement.
In reply to their assertion about what message such a policy would send, I shared my opinion that the message conveyed by a strong vaccination/test policy is “We are doing everything reasonably possible to provide the lowest-risk environment we can for our guests and attendees, as well as the general public.”
Regarding their excuse that because the hotel is not enforcing such a policy on non-convention guests at the hotel that weekend, it is not possible to create a “safe bubble,” I responded,
“You’ve applied the wrong standard. You’ve let the perfect become the enemy of the good.
“For starters, hotel guests who are not con attendees are not likely to have any significant prolonged contact with con attendees. The most likely places of overlap between these two groups, based on historical patterns, is the front lobby and the lounge area. Both of those spaces are relatively open and well ventilated; the former has a high ceiling, and the latter has good spacing on its seating options.
“Those are not high-risk areas, and the con should not be concerned about them.
“The highest-risk areas are those that, for the weekend, WILL be under the con’s exclusive control: the Tack rooms, the Salons, and the Hunt-Valley Ballroom. The Tack rooms and Salons are small enclosed spaces that, if attended by an individual who happens to be contagious, could turn into petri dishes.
“Likewise, because of the sheer crowd density in the Hunt-Valley Ballroom for headliner events, even a single contagious person in that space risks turning it into a superspreader venue.
“Allowing access by unvaccinated and untested individuals sharply increases those risks.”
I offered, as a further criticism of their policy, my observation that it places “all responsibility on the guests and attendees, which is not only unfair, it’s irresponsible, especially considering the number of children who attend the con.
“It is appropriate to ask all attendees to observe those practices for communal safety while in the convention and public areas of the hotel,” I continued, “but the con has a responsibility to do what the attendees cannot, either individually or collectively: screen out the highest-risk persons for the good of the community as a whole.”
The concom’s decision not to revise its policy for a safer one, regardless of their rationale, is one that I consider to be medically unsound. I think it creates an unnecessary degree of risk by omission of action.
Consequently, I have informed Farpoint that, barring an official revision of its COVID-19 safety protocols to include a requirement for all staff, volunteers, guests, and attendees to be either fully vaccinated (2x + booster) or to present a negative COVID test processed in the 72 hours preceding the start of the convention, I will not be attending Farpoint 2022.
I offer this information not to sway anyone else’s decision, but to make sure that my friends and colleagues who choose to be part of this year’s Farpoint Convention clearly understand all of the risks that will be involved. Each of us needs to make our own informed decision whether the increased level of risk that will be present at Farpoint Convention is merited and acceptable.
For those who choose to attend in spite of this lax admission screening, I wish you a happy and healthy convention weekend — but if you choose to attend Farpoint (or any other large event that features gatherings in small windowless rooms, and isn’t verifying vaccination or negative-test results), please take all possible precautions.