CES 2021 Is Happening as Second Wave of Coronavirus Looms

Conor Cawley

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) has announced that planning for CES 2021 is “in full swing,” despite the imminent threat posed by a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 cases are still on the rise in many states across the US, but that hasn't stopped them from reopening with gusto. Restaurants are serving large groups, hair salons are accepting clients, and even gyms have begun holding classes, all as if the pandemic was actually over.

Unfortunately, it's definitely not, which makes CTA's announcement all the more troublesome given the health-averse nature of events like CES.

CES 2021 Planning in Full Swing

In a press release, CTA announced that the company was fully intent on moving forward with the planning of CES 2021. The conference and trade show will, according to the announcement, still take place in early January in Las Vegas, Nevada, albeit with a few additional health and security measures in place:

“While we plan to produce another in-person event in Las Vegas, we all face new considerations around attending conferences, conducting business and traveling to meetings. Just as your companies are innovating to overcome the challenges this pandemic presents, we are adapting to the evolving situation.”

Along with the announcement, CTA provided a short list of the measures they'll be taking in order to promote a healthy event. The announcement outlines plans to “regularly clean and sanitize spaces,” “enable social distancing” by widening aisles and spacing out seats, “issue best practices for attendees” like masks and no hand shakes, “limit touch points” via cashless pay stations and “provide enhanced on-site access to health service and medical aid.”

By CTA's account, all these health measures will make CES 2021 a healthy environment for everyone from around the world to enjoy. Unfortunately, they forgot to include the most important health measure: Don't host the conference.

The Potential Risk of CES 2021

While reopening efforts around the country abound, the reality is that the coronavirus pandemic is far from behind us. In fact, in many states across the US, daily cases are increasing rather than decreasing, which signals a troubling future for states that continue to act as if we're back to normal.

To make matters worse, southwestern states like Arizona, California, and Utah are some of the hardest hit in the entire country. And all you geography buffs out there that know where Las Vegas is, it's safe to say the city is far from safe from a health perspective.

Rising and Falling Coronavirus Cases

Whether or not Las Vegas is prepared from a coronavirus case standpoint to host an event like this aside, the reality is that CES is probably one of the least appropriate events to return amid a global pandemic.

Currently, CDC guidelines don't condemn tech events, as long as they have health measures in place, many of which CTA intends on implementing during the event. However, the CDC does recommend that events with more than 250 attendees pose a substantial risk. Unfortunately, CES consistently has attendee counts in the hundreds of thousands, with CES 2019 seeing 180,000 attendees, along with 4,500 exhibitionists, many of whom travel from around the world to showcase and view the technology on display.

Simply put, CES 2021 is not the place to taunt coronavirus into a second wave, particularly given its status as the largest trade show on the planet. But CES isn't the only tech conference that shouldn't return too soon.

Coronavirus and Tech Conferences

There's no denying tech conferences are a big part of the industry as a whole. From small pitching events that get startups the funding they need to grow to massive conferences like SXSW that bring the industry together, these events act as community builders that make work a bit more fun.

However, while we all want to get back to some kind of normal, tech conferences just aren't the place to start. By nature, they bring together massive numbers of people from around the world (bad) and encourage a lack of social distancing (really bad) through networking and mingling. Even with the most stringent of health measures — which in the US have been far from perfect — tech conferences, particularly big ones like CES, are fundamentally a bad idea before the pandemic is more under control.

As one of the most progressive industries in the world, the responsibility of tech to be smart about reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic is decidedly significant. And if companies like CTA can't be bothered to take a year off to assure the safety of attendees and health of the world, it might be time to reconsider what we view as “progressive” when it comes to tech.

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Conor is the Senior Writer for Tech.co. For the last four years, he’s written about everything from Kickstarter campaigns and budding startups to tech titans and innovative technologies. His extensive background in stand-up comedy made him the perfect person to host tech-centric events like Startup Night at SXSW and the Timmy Awards for Tech in Motion. You can email Conor at conor@tech.co.

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