As we approach the deadline for OHBM2022 abstract and symposia submissions, we are eagerly preparing for our first hybrid meeting this June. The Virtual Integration Taskforce (VITF) has released a few teasers about their plans for what we hope to be the best ever virtual poster experience at OHBM or any conference. And the OHBM Council and Executive Office have just announced comprehensive COVID-19 protocols to make the in-person component a safe and enjoyable experience. In this installment of our OHBM2022 blog series, we peek behind the curtains to let you in on some of the exciting planned virtual and in-person activities for OHBM2022. After this sneak peek, you will want to submit an abstract of your work in progress as soon as possible. Just a quick reminder, one of the limitations of this year’s hybrid meeting format is that we will NOT extend deadlines for abstracts or symposium proposals. So submit now! (or rather, after you finished reading the blogpost).
First, the virtual offerings planned for 2022. There will be a fully virtual component for those not physically present. Indeed, OHBM is doubling down on its investment in Planet Brain, our virtual conference space, given that many of us will be attending virtually, for a multitude of reasons. The goal of Planet Brain is to develop a poster venue second to none for its ability to support social and scientific communication. As a result, the virtual poster sessions will be the premiere place where all of us will be able to comfortably mingle, debate, show off, educate, and inspire one another surrounded by our science. For those of you who were able to join us on our fully virtual Planet Brain last year, think “Jazz Bars meet Poster Hall” with the best of both virtual environments MINUS the technical glitches.
Second, the OHBM Council is planning for an exciting fully in-person programme with hybrid features. In the planning of the in-person program, there is of course special attention for safety. Luckily, we are fortunate that our hosting venue, the Scottish Event Campus, just successfully hosted the COP26 Glasgow Climate Change Conference with minimal infections. Following this much larger conference, a report by Public Health Scotland notes that of all visitors from around the world “approximately 4 in every 1000 people officially affiliated with the COP26 summit tested positive for COVID-19”, a number much lower than the 12 in every 1000 people infected in the general Scottish population during that same period.
Some of the additional safety measures taken by the Scottish Event Campus and OHBM are: sanitizing stations, increased ventilation, cleaning, and cashless registers at the food and beverage outlets. In the poster hall, no food or beverages will be served, so everyone can keep their masks on. Food and beverages will be available outside where it is safer to be unmasked in groups. In the same vein, OHBM has chosen to organize events in outdoor settings where possible.
Now the mandates … in order to safely host a conference in these COVID-19 pandemic times, we will have to follow safety and government mandates. In-person attendance will thus require full vaccination and compliance with all Scottish governmental testing requirements. Unfortunately, OHBM is unable to accommodate requests for vaccination exemption; that is an important motivation for our considerable investment of effort and resources to ensure that the virtual offering will be a worthwhile alternative option. Even after you arrive at the conference venue, safety will be key. Scottish government guidelines require the wearing of face coverings, fully covering nostrils and mouth at all times (unless actively eating, drinking or dancing), encourage frequent hand washing and sanitizing at the provided sanitizing stations, and encourage social distancing. Attendees are also encouraged to use the Check in Scotland contact tracing app and scan the related QR codes displayed at entry points of the conference venue.
With these safety measures, OHBM aims to organize a safe in-person component of the hybrid meeting in which we can all comfortably participate. Of course, the recent identification of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant emphasizes how quickly the situation can change. OHBM will thus regularly review and amend the COVID-19 guidelines following guidance from the relevant regulatory agencies as new information comes to light—so make sure to keep them bookmarked! “We are working hard to share as much information about our meeting plans as possible, as quickly as possible so that everyone can make informed decisions. And hopefully, they will decide that OHBM is where they want to be in June!” says OHBM Chair, Randy Gollub.
We hope that this sneak peek behind the scenes at Planet Brain and overview of the COVID-19 precautions for the OHBM Annual Meeting can help you decide whether to participate in either the in-person or the virtual elements of the meeting. Either way, we are looking forward to new and renewed encounters with all of you at the Annual Meeting.