First ESC Meeting of 2020 Canceled Due to Novel Coronavirus
It’s a wise move, Mamas Mamas says, both for the health of the attendees and for the patients they care for back home.
The first 2020 meeting organized by the European Society of Cardiology (ESC)—the Acute Cardiovascular Care Congress, scheduled to be held March 7 to 9 in Athens, Greece—has been called off because of the continuing spread of the novel coronavirus called COVID-19.
First reported in Wuhan, China, in December, COVID-19 is now responsible for more than 90,000 reported infections and 3,100 deaths. Most cases have been in China, but the virus’ impact is growing worldwide, with confirmed cases in at least 64 other countries.
Susanna Price, MD, PhD (Royal Brompton Hospital, London, England), president of the Acute Cardiovascular Care Association, said in a statement that its congress was canceled in response to the growing COVID-19 threat across Europe and associated travel restrictions.
“Although deeply disappointing, we could not proceed with the congress or with the scheduled exams to be held on-site,” Price said. “Your health and safety are of the greatest priority to us. You have a vital role to play throughout the year but especially now, during the spread of the coronavirus. Most of the reported deaths from COVID-19 have been in patients with underlying cardiovascular disease.” She noted that the congress might be rescheduled.
Mamas Mamas, BMBCh, DPhil (Keele University, Stoke-on-Trent, England), said the cancellation was a good idea for two reasons: it’ll keep attendees out of harm’s way and it’ll prevent them from bringing the virus back to the vulnerable patients they treat after the meeting.
“If you put a bunch of people in an enclosed environment, there is a very significant risk of spread, and given that we’re all in healthcare, going back to our hospitals . . . where people that are amongst the sickest people of society are could represent a time bomb,” Mamas told TCTMD. “And so I think canceling these sorts of meetings is the ethical thing to do.”
What’s Happening With US and European Meetings
The ESC said that its other meetings and events are still a go at this point. Next up is the European Heart Rhythm Association congress, which is scheduled to start at the end of the month in Vienna, Austria.
Something to keep an eye on will be the effect of France’s ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people in confined spaces. If that prohibition were to continue for more than a few months, it would affect EuroPCR, which is slated for May 19 to 22 in Paris. On Sunday, PCR said on Twitter that it is “currently assessing . . . the best options in line with the PCR mission and to ensure the safety of our participants and staff.” Organizers of the meeting told TCTMD that they are preparing an official statement for release Wednesday or Thursday.
For Mamas, capping the size EuroPCR at 5,000 attendees is not a viable option, both because it’s an arbitrary cutoff and because the risk of spreading the virus would remain. “From my perspective, now that this ban has been put in place, I can’t really see that [PCR] can go ahead with the meeting,” he commented.
In the United States, both the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) have indicated that no COVID-related schedule changes are planned for any of their meetings.
The AHA recently held the International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles, CA, and its EPI/Lifestyle 2020 Scientific Sessions kicked off Tuesday in Phoenix, AZ. And in an updated statement, the ACC said its annual meeting to be held in conjunction with the World Congress of Cardiology in Chicago, IL, later this month is proceeding as planned: “Expect increased hand sanitizer stations, attendee educational materials on ways to minimize risk, and more.”
It’s an issue that’s clearly weighing on the minds of physicians. On Wednesday, Robert Yeh, MD (Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA), put up a Twitter poll asking whether the ACC should cancel its meeting. After about an hour-and-a-half, around two-thirds of respondents thought it should be called off.
The decision about whether to travel to meetings in the coming months may soon be taken out of many healthcare professionals’ hands. Two major healthcare systems in New York City have implemented travel restrictions. At Columbia University Irving Medical Center, there will be no international travel or domestic work-related or business/academic travel to meetings and conferences for clinical faculty and staff, according to an email posted to Twitter by Ajay Kirtane, MD (NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center). And a spokesperson for NYU Langone Health confirmed to TCTMD that it has implemented “a ban on all domestic and international work-related travel and attendance at outside business and academic meetings, conferences, etc, for at least the next 60 days.”
Time for Technology?
Mamas said the evolving situation around COVID-19 presents an opportunity for professional societies to explore innovative ways to deliver scientific content that don’t involve in-person meetings.
“In the societies that have canceled their events, why haven’t they, for example, used digital media to provide this educational content?” he said. “That might be an opportunity that societies can begin to explore.”
A good solution, Mamas said, would be to ask speakers to record their talks, which could then be posted on a website for registered delegates. He estimated that 60% to 70% of education content could be delivered digitally. And then the peer-to-peer interaction that would normally occur on-site at a meeting could be replaced to a certain extent with social media, Mamas added.
The societies need to be more proactive in this regard, he argued, “because if this is a problem that’s going to be around for the next 6 months or a year, does that mean that science stops? No, of course it doesn’t.”