As a physician who was once responsible for pandemic planning at the US Department of Homeland Security, Dr. Jeff Runge knows the challenges of bringing people together in the middle of a global pandemic. But he still thinks that, depending on local conditions, in-person events can be held in a safe and responsible manner. 

“There’s an old drive-in movie theatre near Shelby, North Carolina, and I was thinking about that the other day,” says Runge, who lives in the state. “That’s a pretty safe way to go to a movie without being in your living room.” 

Drive-in events have been among the first in-person gatherings to return to Eventbrite, across the globe, in recent months. Compared to the same time period last year, drive-in events have grown by 1,200% on the platform. And they’re not just for movies anymore: music festivals, church services, and comedy shows are all testing the socially distanced format as a safer alternative to high-density indoor events. It’s just one way event creators are bringing in-person gatherings back creatively.

For Eventbrite’s creators who are eager to resume live events in locations that allow it, considering every aspect of what a safe event looks like — and modelling that behaviour for attendees and other creators — is paramount, Runge notes. 

“If every event creator carries out the same health protocols, people will get used to that, and discerning attendees will be uncomfortable going to an event that is not practicing safe protection,” says Runge, now a senior advisor at the Chertoff Group, the risk-management and security consulting film we partnered with to develop Eventbrite’s COVID-19 Safety Playbook for Events. “The more events that are put on the right way, the more the safety procedures will normalise. For example, everyone who gets on an airplane understands the value of managing risk with safety screening done consistently and efficiently, and so will event attendees in a pandemic.”

As a creator, you have the health and safety of your attendees in mind, but it’s hard to know exactly where to begin. The Safety Playbook includes basic safety steps creators should consider taking, a risk assessment and mitigation exercise, tips for how to communicate safety procedures to attendees, and downloadable checklists and resources. Together, these protocols help build a framework for how events can make safety a priority, but they’re not a cure-all. 

“There will be no event that is risk-free,” Runge says. “It’s the duty of the event creator to make sure attendees have the information that they need to make the decision to attend. Part of that calculus is the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community, their own personal risk factors, and the conditions they will face when they’re in the event. Above all, the event creator must keep abreast of the directives of state and local public health officials and adapt event plans to comply fully.” 

Among those factors is the size and scale of the event. Larger events with a greater density of attendees — especially indoors — may carry a greater risk of COVID-19 transmission than outdoor gatherings with smaller, physically distanced crowds, Runge says.

“A bigger event really does require some thought about how you’re going to enforce the rules,” he says. “If you have 10 people in a room, your odds are pretty good of not having anybody there that is infected and transmitting the virus. But If you have 1,000 — all of a sudden that’s more challenging.”

That’s why it’s important for creators to open a clear, direct line of communication with attendees about the steps they’ve taken to reduce risk of transmission at their event, along with any rules and requirements, such as wearing face coverings, wellness checks, physical distancing, and hand-washing protocols.

“There’s an unwritten social contract between an individual attendee and the other people who are at that event,” Runge says. “As an event organiser, you’re trying to bring everybody’s information level up to a common standard. After that comes the responsibility to adhere to it.”

Ultimately, Runge is optimistic about the future of in-person events. The resources in the Safety Playbook, coupled with guidance from local governments and the World Health Organization,  provide creators with tools to safely start to get back to doing what they do best: bringing people together through live experiences.

“I’m hopeful,” Runge says, “that events will take responsibility to prioritise and implement the necessary steps that will bring people together in a way that is safe.”

Learn more about prioritising safety at your event with Eventbrite’s COVID-19 Safety Playbook for Events