Detroit Chamber moving forward with Mackinac Policy Conference with new COVID precautionsSeptember 2, 2021
Sep. 02, 2021
The Detroit Regional Chamber is keeping its plans to host its annual Mackinac Policy Conference in person at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island later this month, with a variety of restrictions designed to mitigate spread of COVID-19.
Detroit chamber CEO Sandy Baruah said Thursday that the Sept. 20-23 conference will go on, albeit with fewer participants and efforts to reduce the potential for the coronavirus to spread among attendees.
“I think it’s safe to say everything will be the same except for the things that are different,” Baruah said.
All attendees, speakers and chamber staff on the island will be required to prove they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 through a third-party mobile app with “no exceptions,” Baruah said.
Attendees will be required to wear face masks inside “high trafficked” areas of the Grand Hotel, including the theater and hallways leading to the theater and registration desk at the entrance of the hotel, Baruah said.
Attendance will be capped at 1,300, down from the 1,600-1,700 business, political, philanthropic, education and civic leaders who normally attend the four-day confab.
“We’ll probably be south of (1,300) when all is said and done,” Baruah said.
Sept. 10 is the deadline for Mackinac Policy Conference attendees to complete the COVID vaccination verification process through CLEAR’s passport app.
Baruah and conference chairman Wright Lassiter III, CEO of Henry Ford Health System, detailed conference logistics and the agenda Thursday morning during a media briefing.
All meals that are part of the conference will be outdoors, Baruah said.
Also new for this year’s conference, attendees will be given green, yellow and red wrist bands so other attendees can know whether their comfort level for shaking hands (green), bumping elbows (yellow) or remaining socially distant (red), Baruah said.
Michigan is averaging just less than 2,000 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 each day, state data show.
For the past week, the COVID testing positivity rate has been above 10 percent; public health experts say any positivity rate above 3 percent is evidence of uncontrolled community spread.
By comparison, Michigan’s COVID positivity rate hovered between 3 percent and 4 percent during the last week in August 2020 and there were fewer than 750 new daily cases that week, a Crain’s analysis of state data shows.
Lassiter acknowledged some people may be wary of holding an in-person conference given how COVID cases surged last fall as the weather got cooler and people started spending more time indoors.
Henry Ford’s epidemiologists are modeling the current spread of the coronavirus and it’s suggesting there may be a “plateauing” of new cases in the coming weeks, he said.
“Obviously, these are predictive models so these are not guarantees,” Lassiter said. “But we’ve seen fairly constant data that suggests that … there’s a possibility of a plateauing of cases as we move into the month of September.
“Again, that’s not definitive. I’d say like an investment banker, we’re not guaranteeing the future, but we’re giving you a sense of what that looks like.”
A clinical advisory team of health experts at Henry Ford has advised the chamber on masking protocols and vaccination requirement for attendees.
“Our clinical advisory team has been very comfortable that the conditions that we put in place with requiring vaccination and the masking expectation that we have for our attendees can provide appropriate safety,” Lassiter said.
Baruah said the chamber has had about 150 cancellations for the conference. Attendees who canceled cited a variety of reasons, including travel restrictions by their employers and disagreement with the chamber’s COVID vaccination requirement.
No sponsors of the conference have pulled out, in part, because of the chamber’s “strong stance” on the vaccination requirement, Baruah said.
“This will be by far the most safe and protocol-intensive large event in Michigan since this pandemic started,” Baruah said.