Virus Researchers Headed to Boston for Convention

The Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections said its conference at the Hynes is still on for March 8-11 despite the threat of coronavirus

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Undeterred by the threat of the global coronavirus outbreak, thousands of researchers who specialize in viruses and the spread of infections will descend on Boston beginning Sunday for a conference organized by the International Antiviral Society.

A seafood industry conference planned at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center for March 15 through March 17 has been postponed out of concern about the ongoing spread of coronavirus and the COVID-19 respiratory illness, but the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) said its conference at the Hynes Convention Center is still on for Sunday through Wednesday, though it expects "substantially fewer attendees" than the 4,300 that have registered.

"After careful deliberation and consideration of thoughtful input from coronavirus, infectious disease, and public health experts, and feedback from CROI Program Committee leaders and CROI registrants, we plan to proceed with CROI 2020 with the following additional guidance and restrictions," conference organizers wrote in an update to participants. "We will be putting into place numerous preventive measures before and during the conference. We are committed to disseminating the important science to be presented at CROI to the greatest extent possible."

In addition to the health-related preventative measures organizers are working on, they are also putting together a special session on Monday at which top public health officials from the United States and China will present the latest information on the origins, spread and status of this latest coronavirus.

Dr. Zunyou Wu, the chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is expected to deliver a 15-minute update via video chat from China, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, will give a recorded update on the coronavirus outbreak. U.S. Centers for Disease Control epidemiologist Dr. John Brooks will also make a presentation.

Conference organizers said the session, planned for 12:10 p.m. Monday, is intended to "focus on the epidemiology and efforts in China; the global epidemiology and effort to control the outbreak; the virology of coronaviruses overall, molecular aspects of transmission to humans, and pathogenesis in mice models and parallels in humans; and the NIAID/NIH efforts to study novel coronaviruses and develop diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines."

Because they want to get the information due to be presented at the conference out to all of the researchers who signed up to attend, conference planners said they are trying to establish "a number of creative avenues for making more of the conference available through real-time webcasting, internet and electronic media."

On-site at the Hynes, organizers are working with the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority to make extra hand sanitizer and tissues available throughout the building, to conduct more intensive cleaning and disinfection of surfaces and common areas in the convention hall, and to reconfigure seating charts and room layouts to allow for "more space between seating and posters to reduce crowding."

The MCCA said it has already positioned hand sanitizer stations and disinfectant wipes in "key high-traffic areas" throughout the BCEC, Hynes and Boston Common Garage, and is "both cleaning and thoroughly disinfecting common areas and surfaces" at the facilities throughout the day. The agency said it adheres to the recommendations in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Emerging Pathogen Policy when it comes to determining which cleaning disinfectants are effective against the coronavirus.

An MCCA spokesman said the Seafood Expo North America and Seafood Processing North America show is the only event at an MCCA venue that has changed its plans due to the coronavirus. Starting Thursday, the BCEC will host about 3,500 attendees for the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and then the Seaport convention center will welcome about 10,000 guests March 7 and 8 for the Boston Volleyball Festival.

The BCEC hosted the popular Pax East show last weekend without issue and the MCCA has a handful of significant events upcoming on its March calendar. The New England Cannabis Convention is expected to draw about 21,000 people to the Hynes between March 20 and 22, and ACE Comic Con Northeast is expected to bring 32,000 people together at the BCEC the same weekend.

The National Restaurant Association New England Food Show is due to hold an event for 8,000 people March 22 through March 24 at the BCEC and 9,000 are expected to attend the March 26 to March 28 annual conference and expo of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

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