Many readers of my blog don’t keep up with social media—a healthy practice, these days. For them, here’s a capsule description of the events I’m writing about:
Renee and I are Deputy Chairs of an annual science fiction convention called Farpoint. We founded it in 1993. It’s a family endeavor that has included our parents, our siblings, and our children. It is not a profitable venture. Trust me. It’s a labor of love. There’s not enough money in the world to make us do this job if we weren’t doing it for love.
The last live event was held in February, 2020, and the team offered some virtual programming in Feburary, 2021, during the height of the Covid pandemic. We decided to return to in-person for 2022.
In November, 2021, Farpoint published its Covid-19 policy, created after much committee discussion, consultations with lawyers and health professionals, consultation with our venue, Delta by Marriott, Hunt Valley, and, of course, in accordance with Maryland State and Baltimore County regulations and CDC recommendations.
The policy stated simply that all attendees would be required to wear masks while in convention areas—specifically, the main ballroom, the exhibit spaces, the breakout rooms and the hallways adjacent. The hotel residence hallways, the lobby, bar and restaurant are public areas and not under our control. The hotel does not, by policy, require vaccinations or testing, and is on an honor system under which unvaccinated guests are asked to mask.
On January 15, we revisited that policy to see if subsequent events or changes to local regulations required an update. We decided that the updates needed were to cap attendance and recommend KN95 or N95 masks.
Since then, some high-profile authors—two in particular—have taken to their blogs and social media to protest our decision. In the comments that followed, both from the authors and their fans, a lot of unkind things have been said, and a lot of misinformation has been shared. I don’t like to use the “M” word. It’s politically charged to the point that it pretty much means, “You said something I don’t agree with, and now Imma bust my ass trying to find a factual error in it so I can shut you down.” In this case, though, the word applies. False statements and false insinuations have been made, and I’m here today to correct them.
I’m also here to explain Farpoint’s policy and the motivations behind it, although, in keeping with our angry and judgmental times, no one has asked for an explanation.
Not. One. Person.
Kind of funny, in a community of people who pride themselves on scientific method and analytical thought that no one responded to a thing that made them go “huh” by asking, “Why?”
So here’s why we decided what we decided, both in November and in January.
Maryland relaxed its Covid posture in 2021 after the vaccines became widespread. According to Our World in Data, the state’s fully vaccinated population is, as of this writing, 72.1%, with, according to the Maryland Department of Health, over 90% of adults having received at least their first dose of the vaccine. As vaccination numbers grew, stores, entertainment venues and government buildings stopped requiring masks. No building in Maryland that I have entered since the pandemic began has required proof of vaccination for entry—not restaurants, not theaters, not businesses. Employers, under Presidential orders since overturned by the Supreme Court, required us to be vaccinated. But, since my former employer vaccinated me, I didn’t have to show a vaccine card to a Maryland employer.
By the time we made our policy decision in November, the Delta variant had appeared, and counties—not the State—were starting to require masks again. Still no public building in Maryland that I’m aware of was requiring vaccination cards for entry. We decided to require masks.
By the time we sat down to revisit our decision in January, the Omicron variant had been discovered, and infections were spiking drastically. Nine people in my immediate circle of family and friends had caught Covid-19. But here’s the thing: every single one of them had been fully vaccinated, and two had had their boosters. Among those nine, three caught Covid from an infected, vaccinated individual. I was personally aware that vaccinations were not preventing infection, and they were not preventing transmission. I’m happy to say also that all of those people are now healthy again, and I credit their being vaccinated for the ease with which they recovered.
Here I want to say that there is not one, single person on the Farpoint committee who has expressed, in all this discussion, the position that people should not be vaccinated. All of the committee are, indeed, vaccinated, and most of us have had our booster shots.
We want to keep our attendees safe. We would love to wave a magic wand and say no one gets Covid at our event. But we can’t. If we were to require, as some conventions have, proof of vaccination in order to enter our event, all we could guarantee was that, if you got Covid inside the Farpoint convention area, you’d have gotten it from someone who produced documentation that they were vaccinated. And, since the hotel is not requiring vaccinations, we would have no way of knowing that you didn’t get it in the bar, in the restroom, or in the public hallways.
Requiring vaccination cards, then, we decided would accomplish very little. When you’re dealing with a strain of virus that flouts vaccines, the best protection against infection is a mask. Indeed, the CDC is now recommending N95 masks. And Farpoint is looking into purchasing a stock of these, or at least of KN95 masks which offer lesser protection than N95 but are superior to cloth masks. We want to keep people safe.
A few people have said to us that they are in a particularly vulnerable category and aren’t comfortable attending in person unless we require vaccination. I’m going to say this: If Covid might put you on a ventilator, I’m not comfortable with you attending any convention at all, unless perhaps that convention limits attendance to those with a negative PCR test.
Another person’s vaccine has not been shown to protect you against catching Covid. The CDC says, “CDC expects that anyone with Omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms.”
Farpoint decided that the inconvenience of asking for vaccination cards, especially since we’d be asking people to stand in lines—indoors—with others who had not yet been vetted, was not outweighed by any appreciable increase in safety to our attendees.
So there we are: unwilling to inconvenience everyone in order to deliver a “feeling” of safety that is not backed up by an actual increase in safety. And indeed worried that requiring vaccine cards might make people decide to attend when they shouldn’t.
About 15 of our expected guest speakers have contacted us to say that they are not comfortable attending. We are currently making provisions to allow as many of them as possible to participate virtually. Some of our oldest friends and attendees, including Marc Okrand, Howard Weinstein and Bob Greenberger are not attending physically. They are still our friends. They still support Farpoint. And we support their decisions and will make every effort to keep them included.
And let me address a very irresponsible rumor: None of the three actor guests who canceled their appearances at this year’s Farpoint did so because of our Covid-19 policy. They all knew of our policy and still planned to appear. Sean Gunn was told by Disney that he was not allowed to any make public appearances at this time due to the risk of Covid. Brent Spiner’s shooting schedule on Star Trek: Picard changed as a result of a brief interruption cause by Covid-19. Wilson Cruz actually canceled due to a scheduling error—he accidentally was booked for both Farpoint and a Trek Cruise the same weekend. If Wilson were backing out due to fear of Covid, would he then turn around and go on a cruise? Seems unlikely.
To those who are name-calling, saying we’re anti-science, saying we’re doing this because we want more money, or saying that we’re just stupid, I say this:
This is a policy decision. You may think it was the wrong one. I respect your opinion. I do not respect the mean-spirited way in which a few of you have behaved, but I respect your right to disagree with us. You need to respect our right to disagree with you. By all means, if you don’t feel safe, keep your distance. But have we become so toxic in our fear that we feel the need to say and do things that run the risk of ending friendships? Of breaking bonds many of us have shared for decades? Is that what we’ve become?
I will not accept that it is. As angry as I have been at some of the comments I’ve read online, as hurt as my family and friends have been by them, I shall remind myself that a lot of us are afraid, confused and tired. And I shall continue my belief that we are all, in our own way, trying to find the best answer and do the right thing. I hope you can believe the same.
Ragged but intact, we can make it through this… but we have to stand together even as we disagree.
Well stated, as always, Steve. I think you have the right of it. I’m involved with two different organizations (DRI International – my work & Silhouette Stages – a HoCo theatre company) that are navigating the same policy challenges for upcoming, in-person events as Farpoint. At the end of the day, there are plenty of options for participants, guests and attendees. It is unfortunate that some feel the need to resort to the name-calling and ill-will that you describe. But, at the end of the day, you will make it through. Take care.
Well reasoned. The committee is between a rock and a hard place as are some of the guests. I am looking forward to the convention.
I’m not here to argue or name call. But; given that science-fiction fandom has always provided an opportunity for people of many different walks of life to commune, it’s a bitter pill to have to swallow when it’s implied you don’t matter. If another convention can provide the assurances that someone with delicate health may require, then people will flock to that one instead. Not simply stay home for another two years until something changes. The differently-abled matter
“The differently abled matter.” Amen to that! Nothing behind my words, nor behind Farpoint’s decision, meant to imply otherwise. As I said, some of my oldest, dearest friends cannot risk exposure. If I thought proof of vaccination would eliminate or significantly reduce the risk, I’d be shouting my head off in favor of it. But I don’t believe it will, nor does the Farpoint committee. Some of our valued friends are safer at home. It kills me to say that. But Omicron means that a fully-vaxed group is not a Covid-free group. If you or anyone you know would like to talk to Farpoint about alternative solutions like virtual participation, please reach out.
“the state’s fully vaccinated population is, as of this writing, 72.1%”
This assumes that all your attendees are from within Maryland, which is not the case. So relying on those numbers seems ill-advised. I was planning to attend, at the end of a trip to see family, but I’ll be flying internationally, and I felt concerned about possibly being barred from my flight if tested positive for Covid after putting myself in what is inevitably a risky situation. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many people I’ve seen recently wearing their masks incorrectly – even after two years of mask wearing. I’m sad to miss Farpoint this year, but I just can’t risk it. #BetterSafeThanSorry
We are sorry to miss you, but your decision is a sound one. I hope you have a safe flight.
The 72% figure was not actually given in support of the committee’s decision, but more as context as to why Maryland had relaxed before Omicron struck. You’re quite right that it’s impossible to know the vax rate for the con itself.
Sorry you’re having to deal with all this. I read the one author’s screed about this issue, and just found it interesting that he didn’t feel the need to sound off about another convention he was planning on attending. Said convention never planned on having a shot/test rule, even before the state legislature took the decision out of their hands. They said they would abide by the local health department guidelines. But I guess that was OK for some reason… He’s planning on going to Shore Leave. That could get interesting…. Hang in there, thanks for all you do, and see you all next month! Fingers crossed we don’t get a pile of snow. 🙂
Snow? What’s that? 🙂 I was also aware of the other con one author was attending. My understanding is that he did cancel that appearance as well, but without the fire and brimstone.