Brad Pitt

At some point, large public events and conferences will return, but when that will happen seems to be getting further and further away.

In the early days of the pandemic last spring, normally a season full of events, conferences and concerts, organizers large and small assumed it would be a delay of a couple of months. Sponsors were told to hold on, as were people who had already bought tickets to things like South by Southwest. It was a more innocent time.

Nine months on, it’s looking like many major events and conferences will not be back until 2022. Conferences large and small — from Facebook’s Developer Conference to CES to Shoptalk — are all now scheduled to return in-person in 2022, after initially being slated to come back in 2021. Such plans were nixed by late last fall, when it became clear the coronavirus would not be really under control for a while still. CES, a huge tech conference, and ShopTalk, focused on retail, are both holding virtual events in 2021, while some 250 other notable events and conferences are estimated to have been cancelled in 2020 and are unlikely to come back with in-person events until 2022.

Public health professionals and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have made clear that group activities, even small gatherings with people outside of those whom you live with, are a primary source of spread for the coronavirus. “The more people an individual interacts with at a gathering and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the potential risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and COVID-19 spreading,” the center says in its guidance.  

So a recent and unprecedented fall surge of infections in the U.S. has made event planning around 2021 next to impossible. Even with several vaccines now approved and in the early stages of distribution to the public, most people are unlikely to have access to a vaccine until mid-year. And finding post-pandemic cultural and economic normalcy is expected to be its own process.

“Ongoing uncertainty takes a big toll,” Karestan Koenen, a Harvard professor of psychiatric epidemiology, told the school’s web site in discussing what a post-pandemic world will look like.

Still, there are some notable holdouts still to concede that large, in-person events won’t be happening in 2021. Music festival Coachella has yet to release an update on its plans. Although its web site maintains that the music festival is still scheduled to return in April 2021, that claim is many months old. And it’s thought that the state of California, where Coachella takes place, will not be legally permitting mass gatherings until 2022.

This could also pose a substantial problem for the Oscars, which normally brings about 3,000 people together in a theater. Although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the body that puts on Hollywood’s splashiest awards ceremony, was reported in early December to be planning for an April in-person event, that’s now rumored to be in utter limbo. The recent surge in the virus, which could very well continue over many more weeks of winter, is said by industry sources to have left the date of the 2021 Oscars totally uncertain, if they happen at all. Outside of the sheer logistical hassle of making an in-person event safe for attendees, there are said to be various publicity concerns around the event — including the possibility of the public reacting negatively amid a pandemic and rising death toll to a glitzy awards ceremony with stars flaunting expensive jewelry and gowns.

One rumor going around is that the Oscars could simply skip 2021 and the relatively few movies that were released in 2020 would simply be up for consideration in a ceremony in early 2022. That event is already scheduled for Feb. 27, 2022.

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