Conventions in the Era of COVID-19: I went to another pop culture event in Florida last weekend. Here’s what I saw.
The weekend before last Florida hosted its first pop culture event since geek mass gatherings in the Sunshine State had ceased mid-March. I grabbed a face mask and a healthy supply of anxiety and visited the Orlando Area Toy Collectors Summer Pop-Up Show to see firsthand what COVID-19 precautions the promotors had put in place. I wrote a blog post about it afterwards. SPOILER ALERT: there weren’t any outside of a sign that said “maintain social distancing” that seemed to be there from the venue.
About twelve hours after my post was made, the convention updated its Facebook event page to acknowledge why the decisions were made to operate the way it did. From that post:
We were the first to keep their event… and you guys came out in droves. Maybe some didn’t like that you did or maybe some felt it wasn’t right. But WE felt YOU deserved some kind of normal day. A day without protesters, crappy news, more damn stickers telling you how to walk, more people telling you what can do or shaming you for what you want to do. We felt all of YOU needed this event to happen at this time.
That Facebook update was made Monday evening after the conclusion of the event. Less than seventy-two hours later, Orange County in Florida (where the Orlando Area Toy Collectors Summer Pop-Up Show took place) issued an executive order that people were now required to wear masks. This past week Florida reported the highest amount of COVID-19 cases in one week since the pandemic began with the total now approaching 100,000.
ORLANDO ANIMEDAY 2020 RESCHEDULED
AnimeDay is “the 1-day marketplace & more” for anime fans with events (according to their website) in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Even though this event canceled the Wednesday before it was supposed to happen, it’s important to note that they DID have COVID-19 policies for attendees posted in advance in anticipation of the event happening.
Due to the ongoing issues with COVID-19….ALL OAD attendees this June 20th will be REQUIRED to wear facial coverings. Masks, bandanas and other cosplay are acceptable.
We know this will be an inconvenience to some but we value the health of our patrons. If you arrive without a mask we will have discounted masks available for purchase at the admissions table.
Things are not back to 100% yet and we are aware of your concerns so here are some of the measures Animeday and Wyndham hotel will be taking to provide for the safety of our patrons:
- Follow and adhere to the latest orange county health and safety guidelines for covid 19 involving social gatherings
- The Hotel will provide sanitizing stations throughout the facility
- The Hotel will clean the public bathrooms on a frequent basis
- Animeday will have signs throughout to ensure proper distancing
- Animeday will have a set amount of attendees entering marketplace at a time
- Animeday will change the marketplace layout to accommodate the safety guidelines
- Animeday will also update both the event room and video games room layouts as well as providing sanitary measures for things like game controllers
- All staff and vendors will be wearing personal protective equipment throughout the day
Orlando AnimeDay is now tentatively scheduled for August 8th.
HERO HYPE TAMPA 2020
According to their website, the group running Hero Hype Tampa has been around since 2013 and “are a multi-platform independent brand” with “conventions in Miami, Tampa & Orlando”. Prior to the event, Hero Hype also posted COVID-19 related guidelines on their website:
Everyone is required to wear a mask at all times during the event.
Bring own gloves and hand sanitizer (if needed)
Temperature check each time you enter the event.
Keep social distance of 6ft apart
All backpacks, purses, bags must be clear (transparent) to avoid any contact when checking in
Everyone will be checked with metal detectors each time you enter the event
When I got there, the first thing I saw was this guy out front of the event entrance which, let’s be honest, seemed like a good sign since he was, you know, wearing a mask.
My optimism immediately dissipated, however, when I walked inside and toward the event itself. As I headed to Hero Hype Tampa’s area of the Holiday Inn, I saw a staffer wearing a blue shirt talking to three attendees at a table. I assumed that I had found Registration for the event and I hung six feet behind them. The attendees standing at the table were wearing their masks. The staffer, however, had his mask pulled down around his neck. After the attendees walked away, I asked to buy admission to the event and was told that registration was further down the hall and that the table I was standing at was for signing up for the costume contest. Regarding the staffer: I saw him again a few more times while at the event, but never with his mask on.
I walked to Hero Hype Tampa’s registration table located just past a large photo backdrop featuring repeated images of their logo. The staffer, while wearing her mask, was selling wristbands to a couple of attendees ahead of me. While waiting I noticed the screen set up at the booth with a series of rotating messages. Grammar mistake aside, I was pretty impressed:
My turn came up and I handed over my fifteen dollars. The staffer at registration offered me a green wristband and a squirt of hand sanitizer. I accepted both and ventured into the show. I had arrived at the event at the same time I had arrived at the Orlando Area Toy Collectors Summer Pop-Up Show the weekend before: 11:00 AM. At that time I counted somewhere between 90-100 people including vendors and guests. In order to see if the event picked up, I left for lunch and came back after 1:00 PM. At that point, I counted about 60-70 people.
Unlike the event I had attended the weekend before, Hero Hype Tampa had signs set up with arrows indicating one way flow for attendees to follow. This was set up in two of the three event rooms: Dealers and Video Games.
The third room, Main Events, did not appear to having any social distancing elements in place.
However, social distancing didn’t seem like much of a challenge since the event was never packed. It was pretty easy to avoid one another while walking around the Vendors Room
- The Video Game room did space out the tables and games (photo) and had signs (photo) set up encouraging social distancing.
- Most people wore their masks most of the time. Some vendors and guests would take them off while sitting at their tables. I did observe a guest walking around without a mask and at least one vendor talking to people with his mask pulled down around his neck.
- I did observe a staffer asking an attendee in the Vendors Room to put their mask back on.
- There was a vendor selling “geek” themed masks at the convention (photo) – a trend I assume we’ll see plenty of as cons start to operate again. I bought 3 for $12.
No convention is going to get this perfect, but Hero Hype Tampa did seem to have attendees’ safety in mind with their policies. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues or, with the recent surge in cases in Florida, if the other summer pop culture events cancel like Orlando AnimeDay. That said, I did see a billboard for Florida’s next attempt while driving down the highway in Tampa…