Global surgical conference cancels at Orange County Convention Center, citing region’s COVID resurgence

·3 min read

Faced with escalating COVID-19 “crisis” in Orange County, the region saw among its first economic dings attributed to the recent surge: a canceled Global Surgical Conference at the Orange County Convention Center.

The show was expected to bring about 5,000 visitors to the region Aug. 7 to Aug. 10, but The Association of periOperative Registered Nurses cited the county’s positivity rate and that Florida accounts for one in five of the nation’s new COVID-19 infections in its decision.

The association’s president said in a statement the group didn’t want to “potentially burden Orlando’s healthcare system.”

“We were very excited about the conference and are disappointed that we had to make this decision. However, the health and well-being of all attendees, presenters, exhibitors, and our staff is our top priority. Additionally, we do not want to potentially burden Orlando’s healthcare system with an influx of almost 5,000 visitors during this public health epidemic,” said Holly S. Ervine, the president of AORN, in a statement.

The cancellation is the only so far attributed to the recent surge in new COVID-19 infections, that has featured record highs in cases and hospitalizations. No other shows have canceled in the past month, said Nadia Vanderhoof, a spokesperson for the convention center.

Mark Tester, the executive director of the convention center, said it has hosted more than 100 events since the start of the pandemic and said OCCC had “proven that events can be held in this new era of health and safety protocols.”

“The OCCC has 78 contracted events through December 31, 2021, which represents approximately 680,935 attendees and $1.2 billion in economic impact to our community. We will continue to work directly with each event to develop a customized health and safety plan based on their unique needs, along with following CDC guidelines,” he said in a written statement.

Last March, just weeks before Orlando’s roaring tourism engine screeched to a halt, canceled business meetings at OCCC were among the first signs of what was to come.

The HIMSS Global Health & Exhibition was called off on March 5, just days before it was set to begin and bring 44,000 healthcare professionals to Orlando with an appearance by then-President Donald Trump scheduled.

Since January 1, 20 events have been canceled at the convention center, which combined were expected to bring 327,000 people to the massive building. Another 25 events were rescheduled.

While convention business never returned to pre-pandemic levels, county officials were excited about a busy summer, including in June, when 14 events were booked at the Pentagon-sized center. In August, about 10 shows are booked including MegaCon, which has an estimated attendance of 100,000, according to OCCC’s website.

But since that early summer optimism, Florida has become the nation’s epicenter of COVID-19. In Orange County, record highs of new cases have been reported, with hospitalizations also surpassing previous peaks and forcing the postponement of elected procedures.

AdventHealth, the region’s largest hospital system, reported its ICU was full, and late Thursday said it has the highest amount of COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began.

In comments earlier this week as he issued a new state of emergency, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said the failure of residents and visitors to get vaccinated at higher rates, wear masks and slow down the spread of the virus could lead to a “self-inflicted” collapse of the local economy.

Underscoring his concern, Demings is reconvening his Economic Recovery Task Force, a group of health and business leaders from across Central Florida that was active last summer amid the reopening of the economy.

The group includes representatives from theme parks and hotels, as well as restaurateurs, sports teams, pastors and medical professionals from AdventHealth, Orlando Health and the Florida Department of Health in Orange County.

The group is due to meet at 10:30 a.m. Monday, and it will be streamed on Orange TV.

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