As COVID-19 restrictions ease and live events slowly return, newly established health and safety protocols from leagues and venues have come under scrutiny. A recent poll of epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists found that 64% would wait at least one year before attending a concert or sporting event.1 Venues not being solely reliant on manual approaches to implement health and safety protocols can be key to changing confidence, as manual approaches inherently have higher potential for error, lack the ability to dynamically adjust and scale, and can be slow to react when things go wrong.
Leveraging technology and data to supplement, automate or replace manual approaches is necessary to effectively and efficiently implement both preventative and responsive safety protocols. Tech-enabled solutions will drive insights and informed decision making, adherence to protocols, and transparency, ultimately leading to regaining trust and creating an environment that is safe and responsible for live events.
Social distancing has been identified as the crux for health and safety measures at live events, and while it has been shown to be effective in “flattening the curve,”2 generally it is unrealistic to expect manual enforcement within venues to be adequate. Additionally, most sports leagues have identified frequent testing for COVID-19 as a primary preventative protocol, but the clinical logistics of testing create unique operational challenges. These basic measures would apply to essential staff, athletes, performers, TV crews, and others involved in event and venue operations, and will be a bigger challenge once fans are allowed back on site.
Use of technology and data can give the event organizers the insights needed to make the right decisions for the event. For example, unobtrusive wearables or “smart badges” for staff, athletes and/or performers could remind participants via audio, visual or haptic reminders if social distancing barriers have been compromised, or restrict individuals from entering higher-risk spaces. These technologies can also be used for implementing structured permissions to facilitate safer interactions across the venue, such as alerting a fan when their food order is ready for pick-up.
Also, by using computer vision systems or aggregating wearable data, a digital overlay of the event space can be generated to provide event operators a means to identify bottlenecks and areas of concern. Physical space can be modified for optimal layout before the next game, or even adjusted in real-time. This technology can also provide for integration of predicative sanitation and real-time maintenance alerts to ensure cleanliness of spaces throughout the venue.
Despite best efforts, it is still possible that someone will test positive for COVID-19 while participating in or after having attended a sporting or other live event. At this point efficient and precise contact tracing strategies are imperative to reducing widespread infection. In fact, studies have shown that successful contact tracing measures can mitigate spread with achievable control of 90% of outbreaks, if 80% of interactions can be traced and isolated.3
Currently, most plans are based on compartmentalization, such as placing people in specific zones on site in order to minimize contact or - on a larger scale - creating a “bubble” for players, coaches, and staff, or entertainers and crew. Both methods depend on self-policing and self-reporting; the infected individual would need to be able to recount close contact (within six feet for at least 15 minutes) with individuals as far back as 48 hours.4 This task is daunting at live events, and exponentially more difficult for athletes and entertainers given the volume of their personal interactions.
The same wearables, smart badges and derived data that can be effective for enforcing social distancing can have a similar impact for contact tracing. By leveraging spatial proximity sensors, individuals who came in contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 can be identified and notified via an app on their smart phone, and asked to self-isolate immediately. This process would all take a matter of minutes instead of hours, saving precious time. Event operators, in conjunction with health professionals, can then assess the potential risks moving forward, possibly preventing an event cancellation.
Technology integration is critical to live events, and the rich data sources generated by this technology can enable reporting on the effectiveness of protocols and provide transparency to key stakeholders. Currently, there do not seem to be sophisticated digital measurement systems in place to both track and communicate the effectiveness of protocols, which can be especially perilous for any leagues or tours that move from city-to-city. Success with one venue will not necessarily translate to the next venue, but understanding why measures were effective and how they could improve moving forward is imperative to building trust and confidence.
Health and safety protocols are being established as policy, but as leagues, tours and facilities consider the next phase of re-opening, technology integration is necessary for success. Technology will be pivotal in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 by helping ensure a timely and efficient response to a positive test, capturing data to enable real-time modifications, and evaluating the effectiveness of safety measures. Existing measures augmented with scalable technology enhancements are critical to building the confidence of fans, athletes, performers, and staff, and could very well determine future profitability and sustainability for sports and entertainment organizations.
Learn more about how technology and data analytics can help address the COVID-19 challenge.
- New York Times – The Upshot, Margot Sanger-Katz, Claire Cain Miller and Quoctrung Bui, “When 511 Epidemiologists Expect to Fly, Hug and Do 18 Other Everyday Activities Again.” June 8, 2020.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website – Emerging Infectious Diseases article, Laura Matrajt, Tiffany Leung, “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Social Distancing Interventions to Delay or Flatten the Epidemic Curve of Coronavirus Disease,” Volume 26, Number 8, August 2020 early release article.
- See, e.g., the Lancet website, Joel Hellewell, PhD, Sam Abbott, PhD, Amy Gimma, MSc, Nikos I Bosse, BSc, Christopher I Jarvis, PhD, Timothy W Russell, PhD, et al., “Feasibility of controlling COVID-19 outbreaks by isolation of cases and contacts,” February 28, 2020.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website - HEALTH DEPARTMENTS: Interim Guidance on Developing a COVID-19 Case Investigation & Contact Tracing Plan, Document ID CS317074-A, June 4, 2020 5:45 PM.