The rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus has led to a wave of public event cancellations across the United States, from St. Patrick’s Day parades to the Houston Rodeo. So far, they do not include the world’s largest beer-industry gathering.
The Craft Brewers Conference, which attracts thousands of attendees and more than 1,000 exhibitors to its World Beer Expo, is scheduled for April 19 to 22 in San Antonio, Texas. Concurrent this year is the biennial World Beer Cup, the world’s largest beer competition. As of today, at least, the Brewers Association still plans to move forward with the event.
However, the industry group said it would be meeting with San Antonio officials on Thursday, and would "provide an update to all attendees and exhibitors by the end of the day."
Also today, the Brewers Association published a Coronavirus Resource Center for its members. The page gathers a number of links to information that may be useful to member breweries and others in the industry. These include guidelines on sanitary practices for draft beer, a list of EPA-approved antimicrobial products effective against coronavirus, and relevant tips from the National Restaurant Association. They also include federal health guidance for businesses, employers, and travelers.
On the CBC website, the BA has been publishing regular virus-related updates. On the most recent, the BA said it was in daily contact with local health officials. “We will re-evaluate as needed,” the group said.
Spokeswoman Jenelle Scott said the BA planned to post another update for CBC attendees on Thursday.
Daily updates from San Antonio officials have so far stressed that there are no “community spread cases” in the city or surrounding Bexar County. The only cases confirmed locally were at Lackland Air Force Base, brought there for a federally mandated quarantine. “Therefore, the risk of infection remains low,” the latest city update says. Those quarantined at Lackland include some from the Grand Princess cruise ship recently allowed to dock in California after an outbreak.
However, for an event that attracts thousands of attendees from across the country and around the world, the local situation in San Antonio is only part of the complex dilemma to consider.
In its March 9 update, the BA said that so far, fewer than 1 percent of registered attendees have cancelled since February 1—a cancellation rate similar to last year. “Thank you for your continued patience and support as we monitor and evaluate the situation as it evolves,” the group said.
The BA listed several additional precautions it plans to take at the venue in advance of the conference and trade show. These include ensuring that hand-sanitizer units are working and full, as well as posting signs that remind attendees to wash hands and cover mouths. They planned to disinfect doorknobs, railings, restrooms, and other high-contact areas at least twice per day.
Beyond the conference, the wider economic impact of the virus was difficult to foretell. Many breweries expect lean months during the winter, counting on business to pick up in the spring. So, how to estimate the impact of people in many cities choosing to self-quarantine and practice social distancing, rather than patronize bars and taprooms?
“It’s way too soon to tell,” Scott says. “We’ll have more data in a couple of months.”