The Weston A. Price Foundation’s annual conference in Atlanta in three weeks was envisioned as something akin to the White House Rose Garden introduction of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett a few weeks back–-no masks, people sitting close together, and lots of hugging by people celebrating their special privilege of not having to abide by prevailing protocols during a pandemic.
Alas, it all came crumbling apart in the last few days, even before it could potentially turn into the kind of superspreader event that the Rose Garden ceremony turned into, with 11 people, including the president, testing positive for Covid-19: Faced with a financial disaster from poor attendance, WAPF announced cancellation of the conference.
In a statement on its web site, WAPF seemed to blame the hotel hosting the event, the Atlanta Sheraton: “Several weeks ago, the Sheraton Hotel in Atlanta abruptly reneged on our contract because they had the opportunity for another contract that would fill the hotel until the end of the year. We have spent the last few weeks in negotiation with another Atlanta hotel, which initially promised a ‘no mask’ policy for our group, but then changed their mind and insisted that we wear masks whenever we were in contact with hotel employees, including food servers and audio-visual people. This meant while being served at the banquet and various other times, we would have to wear masks. They also required distancing. We do not know what action the hotel would take if people did not follow their requests. Rather than take the risk of unknown actions and agree to such an unworkable proposal, we have sadly decided to cancel the event.”
But an individual who had registered for the event said she believed the problem was more straightforward than uncooperative hotels: The event failed to attract enough attendees to make it financially viable. Apparently WAPF bailed last week, and word started leaking out as the hotel began sending out reservation cancellation notices to people who had signed up.
This individual was upset by the cancellation, and WAPF’s statement that it “will be contacting all those who have registered to determine how they would like to be reimbursed.” The clear inference is that WAPF will seek to simply apply fees for this conference to next year’s conference, when some or all may want cash returned. Another individual who was considering attending the conference told me that as much as she loves the conference, there was no way she was going to take the risk of going through airports and staying at a hotel to make it happen.
WAPF certainly had plenty of warning signs that trying to hold a conference of a few hundred people during a pandemic would be problematic. It says on its web site that it had previously been turned down for the conference by Portland, OR, its originally planned location, because of prohibitions there on large-group gatherings. Since last March, when the pandemic took hold in the U.S., companies and nonprofit organizations of all types have cancelled conferences or turned them into virtual events rather than risk superspreader problems of the sort experienced by a biotech company’s conference in Boston in late February. That conference, hosted by Biogen, was subsequently associated with tens of thousands of transmissions of the virus.
Some organizations have tried to re-schedule in-person events for these fall months, with the idea that they would abide by mask and social distancing protocols, but have given up as the pandemic persists, and seems now to be entering a second wave. One can certainly appreciate that WAPF would want to hold its conference in person, since locally produced farm-fresh food is such a big part of the event. But WAPF’s notion that it could somehow hold a protocol-free event and still enjoy its wonderful food seems another example of the denial and delusion I described in my post yesterday.