As the novel coronavirus continues its rapid global spread, many oncology-based organizations have been forced to make the difficult decision to either cancel or postpone highly anticipated medical conferences.
As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues its rapid global spread, many oncology-based organizations have been forced to make the difficult decision to either cancel or postpone highly anticipated medical conferences that had been scheduled for the coming months in a valiant effort to protect physicians and patients from infection.
The number of new confirmed cases continues to change every day, with over 4000 cases reported in the United States alone, as of March 17, 2020.1 Although the source of exposure of the majority of these cases (3752) is still under investigation, 245 cases have been traced to close contact and 229 cases have been identified as travel-related.
On March 16, 2020, President Donald Trump and the White House Coronavirus Task Force issued new guidelines to help protect Americans during the global outbreak. Chief among this guidance, is to work or engage in schooling from home, whenever possible, and to avoid discretionary travel.2 In the briefing given at the White House, he also urged that Americans avoid groups of more than 10 people.
Bearing all of this in mind, several institutions, including The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and NYU Langone Health’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, have implemented travel bans for their faculty in an attempt to minimize the risk of disease spread.3
“The most worrisome thing about COVID-19 is that we don’t have a clear picture of what it is, incidence rates, who gets infected, and what disease course patients have,” Patrick I. Borgen, MD, chair of the Department of Surgery at Maimonides Medical Center, told OncLive in a recent interview. “Unfortunately, I believe we are going to learn quickly. Over the next 2 to 4 weeks, our understanding of this virus will [increase].”
Because a COVID-19 outbreak could last for a long time, the CDC warned that public health officials may recommend the modification, postponement, or cancellation of large events to ensure the safety and well-being of event staff, participants, and the community as a whole.4 In accordance with this guidance, several oncology-based organizations have taken action by cancelling or postponing various live meetings.
SGO Forced to Cancel First International Meeting
Due to the global emerging surrounding COVID-19, the Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO) made the decision to cancel its 2020 Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer, which had originally been planned for March 28 to 31, 2020 in Toronto, Canada.5 This was going to be the SGO’s first annual meeting to be held outside of the United States in the SGO’s 50-year history.
“The health and safety of meeting attendees and the panelists in their care is our utmost concern,” SGO said in their announcement. “In recent weeks, countries and institutions have imposed travel bands that prevent attendance by a significant number of attendees, including meeting faculty and SGO leadership, making it impossible to conduct the meeting at this time.”
However, SGO is in the process of evaluating alternate ways to deliver the science and education to attendees.
AACR Issues Notice of Termination of Annual Meeting
On March 10, 2020, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Board of Directors announced that they had reached the decision to terminate the 2020 AACR Annual Meeting, which had originally been scheduled for April 24-29, 2020 in San Diego, California.6 The organization plans to reschedule the meeting for later this year.
After close monitoring of the rapid developments over the past several weeks regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, the board thoroughly analyzed and discussed several key factors that would impact the meeting, including: the US government’s enforcement on restrictions to international travelers to enter the United States; the burden of travel restrictions issued by US government agencies, cancer centers, academic centers, and pharmaceutical and biotech companies; and guidance from infectious disease experts. All these factors would hinder the ability of delegates, speakers, presenters of proffered papers, and exhibitors to fully participate in the meeting.
“The health, safety, and security of all Annual Meeting attendees and the patients and communities they serve are the AACR’s highest priorities,” the organization stated in their announcement. “While we believe that the decision to postpone the meeting is absolutely the correct one to safeguard our meeting participants from further potential exposure to the coronavirus, we also understand that this is a disappointing one for our stakeholders.”
The 2020 AACR Annual Meeting was projected to be the largest meeting held by the organization to date, with over 7400 proffered papers, 24,000 projected delegates from 80 countries, and more than 500 exhibitors. As such, the organization is currently investigating options to reschedule the highly anticipated meeting to be held in the near future and will provide the public with updates as they become available.
ESGO Reschedules Conference to End of 2020
On March 12, 2020, the European Society of Gynaecological Oncology (ESGO) Council announced that after carefully monitoring updates regarding COVID-19, the ESGO 2020 State of the Art Conference that was originally slated to be held on April 2 to 3, 2020, has been rescheduled to December 14 to 16, 2020. The meeting will still take place in Copenhagen, Denmark, as originally planned.7
“We look forward to convening the State of the Art Conference in December and thank all our participants, exhibitors, and partners who plan to join us for ESGO 2020 in Copenhagen, Denmark,” the organization wrote in their announcement.
AUA Announces Meeting Cancellation, Joins Growing List
Directly following President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency regarding the COVID-19 outbreak,8 on March 13, 2020, the American Urological Association (AUA) announced the cancellation of their annual meeting that had been slated to be held on May 15 to 19, 2020 in Washington, DC.9
“We recognize the AUA Annual Meeting is a major global event for the urology community and preparing for it involves the time and talent of a great many of our physician volunteers, speakers, and exhibitors,” the AUA stated in their announcement. “We are incredibly grateful for their time and deeply disappointed not to be able to hold the meeting as planned.”
The AUA noted that because of the logistics that go into the organization of such a large meeting, they are unable to reschedule the meeting for a later date. However, the organization will be working on sharing the abstracts, surgical videos, and other key clinical education materials from the meeting in the coming weeks.
Additional Postponements, Cancellations, Modifications
Below are additional meetings that have been either cancelled or postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak:
Preventing Further Spread: It Takes a Village
The CDC recommends several actions to prevent the spread of disease, including but not limited to avoiding close contact with those who are ill; avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; staying home when sick; covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then disposing the tissue directly into the trash; cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces that are frequently touched; and washing your hands often with soap and water.13