When deciding whether to attend industry events in-person, just over half of Canada’s risk professionals are casting a wary eye on COVID-19, while about one in three are ready to move on, according to responses received in a Canadian Underwriter online survey.
COVID was either a very important or important consideration in deciding whether or not to attend in-person events, according to 55% of 246 respondents who answered the question. About 28% said it was either unimportant or not at all important, while just under 17% were neutral.
The online survey of 375 Canadian risk and insurance professionals was conducted last Wednesday, with the country being in a seventh COVID wave led by the highly transmissible BA.5 variant. Public health officials in Canada have said there is no indication the new BA.5 variant shows more risk of severe outcomes or death than earlier strains of COVID-19, which caused the deaths of 30,872 Canadians as of Jan. 1, 2022.
Updated Public Health Agency of Canada figures show 42,681 deaths from COVID-19 as of July 23, 2022, suggesting almost 12,000 have died from COVID-19 so far this year alone. As of last week, almost 4.1 million Canadians have reported catching COVID over the course of the pandemic in 2019-22. COVID case counts in 2021 totalled 592,391.
The numbers may be underestimating the number of cases, since the methods for counting COVID cases have changed over time.
Most provincial governments dropped any form of mask or other public health mandates in May through July of this year. But Canada’s risk and insurance professionals still mainly feel cautious about attending industry in-person events, noting COVID-19 is still a force to be reckoned with.
“COVID is still here, even though some choose to ignore it,” one respondent commented. “Going to an event with large groups of people does not make sense. It risks further spread to families and workplaces.”
CU’s survey asks how many in-person industry events risk professionals have attended in 2022. Almost half (about 48%) said they have attended zero in-person events thus far. A further 19% reported attending only one. In comments about whether COVID was a factor in their decision to go, several expressed concern about the ongoing personal health risks of attending large events.
“I have not attended any industry event other than lunch or dinner to discuss development of business,” one respondent commented anonymously. “The largest event attended is six people and I am not comfortable attending any event larger than that.
“I am responsible for my own health and cannot trust that a large gathering can provide me with safety that satisfies my comfort level. I am comfortable exposing my health to maybe 10 people max. I will not attend large gatherings any time in the near future.”
Another said they would go to in-person events only if organizers made efforts to ensure the safety of attendees.
“Knowing the new variant is the most transmissible yet, it should guide event planners to take as many precautions as possible to ensure in-person events are the safest they can be,” one commented. “Triple-vaccinated required, venue has updated ventilation standards, not overcrowding rooms, open air/outdoor gathering environments when possible, frequent hand-sanitizing stations.
“These standards (outside of vaccine requirements) should be the status quo going forward regardless of COVID.”
But only 16% of risk professionals agree conference organizers or coordinators are responsible for the safety of attendees. A large majority of Canadian risk professionals (78%) believe they are responsible for their own safety. To this extent, many in the profession are vaccinated at levels at or beyond the national average.
Fifty per cent of industry professionals reported having at least one dose of a COVID vaccination booster shot, while a further 24% said they have received a second booster. Roughly 93% of industry professionals have received at least two doses of COVID vaccines.
In contrast, 82% of Canadians have received at least two vaccine doses. Forty-nine percent of Canadians have received one booster dose, according to Public Health Canada stats, and about 11% have received a second booster shot.
Because of their vaccination status, many industry professionals report feeling less fearful about attending in-person industry events.
“I’ve got all three of my shots, and if other people who aren’t vaccinated get ill, that’s on them for making a poor decision,” one risk professional commented.
Said another: a “high number of colleagues have all their shots. Those who don’t won’t come out [to in-person events].”
A significant minority of the industry feel COVID will always be a risk, and the time to move on has arrived. “COVID is now part of life and I feel we need to be aware and take personal precautions,” said one respondent. “However, life needs to go on and in-person events are an important part of networking, connecting with others, education opportunities, etc.”
Some observed that while recent COVID variants are more transmissible, those who are vaccinated stand a much better chance of making it through without severe health consequences or dying.
“When we saw the first wave and how people got sick, and some died, that was scary,” one industry professional commented. ”Now the new variant (BA.5) is not life threatening, so [I] am not too apprehensive in meeting people or to, say, be in a crowd.”
Many believe the main threat of COVID is now gone. “COVID is no longer a meaningful threat due to both vaccines, and the weakening of the virus into the current variants,” one writes.
Another compares the threat of COVID to the threat of being killed in an auto collision. Transport Canada reported 1,745 Canadians were killed in auto accidents in 2020, down 1% from 2019 (1,762). There were 72,917 collisions in 2020, suggesting a rate of about 2.4% deaths per collision.
About 1% of Canadians who reported being ill with COVID have died, Public Health Canada stats suggest.
“The probability of death from COVID is lower than the risk of travelling by car, except for those with elevated pre-existing health concerns,” one risk professional observed. “We haven’t suspended life due to risk of a car accident, but we take reasonable precautions.”
Feature photo courtesy of iStock.com/VioletaStoimenova