The APA’s Pacific Meeting & the Coronavirus – UPDATED (3/11/20)

The spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is leading organizations to cancel upcoming meetings, businesses to restrict “non-essential” work travel among their employees, and individuals to reconsider their plans. (See Update 1) (See Update 2)

The 2020 Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association (APA) is scheduled to take place April 8th – April 11th in San Francisco. A few days ago, the APA posted on social media and on its site the following message:

We presently expect the 2020 APA Pacific Division Meeting to take place as planned. The APA is monitoring the situation related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) and will notify meeting participants of any further developments and decisions related to the meeting.

As the virus continues to spread and as we learn more about it, philosophers scheduled to participate in the meeting are wondering whether it will actually proceed as scheduled and if so, whether they should go.

Last week, San Francisco’s mayor declared a local state of emergency for the city for the sake of funding preparedness measures. In light of the uncertainty regarding the effects of the spread of the coronavirus and the occurrence of the Pacific APA Meeting, both prospective attendees and the APA may also wish to take preparedness measures.

For individuals, this would include, among other things, purchasing travel insurance for their flights. At this point, only “cancel for any reason” travel insurance policies would apply to cancellations owing to the spread of the coronavirus, as it is now a known issue, but readers will need to look into such policies themselves, as they are different in their terms and coverage and may vary according to state laws, and may not reimburse all of one’s flight costs. Individuals may also wish to avoid booking nonrefundable hotel rooms or AirBnB’s with strict cancellation policies.

For the APA, preparedness could include, if possible, making sure that most of the session rooms are equipped with videoconferencing equipment so that presenters who are unable to attend can nonetheless present their work. The APA might also look into live streaming possibilities for some of the larger events at the meeting, so that people can watch from home should they be unable to attend.

Additionally, communicating in a timely manner with the registered attendees about plans to cancel or proceed with the conference is key. The American Physical Society (APS) cancelled its annual physics meeting for this week on rather short notice, which might have been difficult to avoid. It would be good if the APA was able to make its decision a bit further in advance, as doing so may help prospective conference-goers better make their own plans and perhaps save on costly expenditures or cancellations.

Suggestions for other preparatory measures prospective conference attendees and conference organizers can take in light of the spread of the coronavirus are welcome.

UPDATE 1 (3/9/20): The APA just posted the following statement, announcing they will decide by the end of the week whether the Pacific Division Meeting is happening:

The APA Board of Officers and the Pacific Division Executive Committee have been engaged in extensive and detailed discussions in order to provide a final decision about the 2020 Pacific Division meeting in San Francisco given local, national, and international developments regarding the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19). We understand that those intending to participate in the meeting are anxious for a resolution, and we are working hard to navigate the complex issues related to the meeting and the rapidly evolving public health guidance as quickly as possible. In the next 24-72 hours we will undertake a final examination and consideration of the present options and will issue a definitive decision no later than Friday, March 13. We appreciate your patience during this challenging time.

UPDATE 2: (3/11/20): 

Mayor London N. Breed today announced that the Health Officer of the City and County of San Francisco will issue a Public Health Order prohibiting all large group events of 1,000 or more persons. This measure is necessary to slow the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the community and builds on the City’s March 6th public health recommendations… The Public Health Order will initially go into effect for two weeks and can be reauthorized by the Health Officer. The Order will be updated as the COVID-19 situation evolves in San Francisco.

The order expires before the Pacific APA is to begin, though it may be renewed at that point. It is also unclear exactly how many people participate in the Pacific APA on a regular basis, though I would estimate 1000-1200, based on a look at programs for previous Pacific Division meetings.


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