Events and Meetings Are Reckless (Right Now)

Having been desperate to watch robots again, I’d been watching the IR@H progress of many teams. To my endless frustration some teams were posting photos where not only were they not distancing, they didn’t wear masks at all (for the photo specifically). Some teams would delete the photos when called out, others promised to be better about mask requirements and getting their students vaccinated when possible.

More recently though, to my surprise the Northern Minnesota Robotics Conference held a full event (24 teams) and despite assurances to observing COVID modifications for event safety, there are instances where they definitively weren’t met.

This post in the original thread suggests that they’d require attendees and spectators to socially distance. Unfortunately, that simply wasn’t the reality of the situation. In a selfie posted by Tyler of FUN on their Facebook page, we can see there are fewer people there than 500 by a quick math problem (rows by columns of seats) , but they are not even remotely distanced.

In short? How do we as a community morally stomach that when all scientific evidence says “no events, stay distanced, stay separate, do your part” some of us, even those in power, go “I want to play robots”. All this, despite the consequences being greater than ever; literal life and death for our most vulnerable populations, our loved ones, our friends.

By broadcasting, advertising, showing off, and demonstrating willingness to hold events when the scientific consensus says “NO!”, I think that we’ve ultimately abandoned any claim to promoting science and technology; you can’t pick and choose what science you don’t like and ignore it. We cancelled the whole season with a hundreth of the cases we have now. The risks aren’t lessened…


This is less of a coherent post than usual, I’m just frustrated. Thank you to those who do do your part. I’ll be back in a few days, please be kind and responsible.

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I also can’t believe how wildly differing the level of protocols that events are implementing are. Some events are doing it perfectly, and other events literally couldn’t be doing it more wrong.

The only event I would even remotely consider attending in the next couple months is the texas cup (if I was on the drivetrain of a texas team), thanks to the proper measures they put in place. Required vaccine or negative test in addition to temperature checks on arrival. Very, limited attendance (only 6 people per team), and in a absolutely massive venue where the very limited people in attendance can easily spread out. And it’s not even until June 15th, a whole 2 months out.
11/10

The Rambotics Invitational on the other hand, I wouldn’t touch with a 100 foot pole. No vaccine or negative check requirements. No temperature checks. 20 fricking people per team allowed. The venue is at a middle school, so I’d imagine it’s a standard middle school sized gym, which isn’t much space for 200+ people (not even counting all the volunteers and field staff) to spread out… And the only real precautions they are implementing are “we will spread out as much as possible” and “2v2”… And the event is only 2ish weeks away.
0/10

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As an unfortunate citizen of a state who has zero practical restrictions on COVID (masks, but not in restaurants and rarely enforced regardless), watching in person competitions sickens me. I know that you have missed robotics (my junior and senior year were nixed) , but we cannot safely hold competitions, even if the rules are properly enforced. The NMRC has frightening levels of disregard for safety, and it is embarrassing as a member of an organization that is supposed to Recognize Science and Technology.

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I think this is an excellent topic. I think we should be discussing these things.

We will not be attending in-person events any time soon, but hybrid meetings began last week. We have been working closely with the school, the district, and our school nurse who is our district point person for health and safety in general as well as for COVID safety specifically.

After discussing it with them, we developed protocols to allow us to meet in person. These go above and beyond those of our normal school day. The biggest accommodation beyond the typical (Intake questionnaires that we review upon entrance, taking temperatures, masks on all the time, distant by at least 3 feet at all times, etc) is a change of space. It is large, well ventilated, and even if everyone comes, we are talking about 15 people (mentors included) in a room that was made for over 200. Many of us have been vaccinated at this point as well (so far, only one memeber attended who is not). Also, we continue discussing the safety of meeting and reevaluating the safety of doing so.

Also, we are meeting in a hybrid fashion. So people are working online if they are desiring (or needing) to do so (which some are, through desire not necessity).

We know that this is still taking on a level of risk. However, with the learning deficits (both curricular and SEL) brought on by the pandemic, we determined that as long as we are able to maintain our proceedures, meeting is worth it. If we are unable to maintain the proceedures, we will move back to meeting remotely.

We only met once last week (we had to make the other meeting remote due to weather), but so far, things are going well. All protocols were followed.

On another note, I feel it was impossible to do the IR@Home challenges without at least a few team members meeting in person (which is why we did not participate in it).

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Im gonna put on my hat as one of the first people to call for the 2020 season to be cancelled and who has been very much pro covid safety precautions since last February.

I believe there are ways to do meetings and events safely. These meetings and events likely don’t look like traditional events.

I think there is less value in shaming folks for trying to hold events than there is in having a discussion about what went well and what needs to be improved.

Since you called out NMRC specifically - it seems like they could have made sure that team members were encouraged to space out.

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Curious to see what people think.

People who attended an offseason event…
  • are bad people
  • are ignorant to the risks they took
  • aren’t bad, but made a bad decision
  • performed a risk assessment
  • must be condemned for their decision

0 voters

Teams who attended an offseason event…
  • should face repercussions
  • made a bad decision
  • determined it was safe for their team
  • did a good thing for their students

0 voters

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Team members in the stands were isolated from team members in the pits. Teams are considered pods, they have been working together throughout this season thus interacting with each other. There is no real reason to separate a group of people that have been in close contact for weeks. That’s why you see people of the same team sitting together.

That doesn’t align with your own statements in the NMRC thread. Please help me align your statement

The seating at the venue will hold 4,700 ppl. At most we will have about 500 in the stands, ~11% they should be able to spread way out.

With what you are now saying… They are different statements entirely, if things changed ok, could you share what caused them to change?

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They did not spread out, and now the event organizers realize that this was not a popular move and that perhaps they should have enforced this rule.

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There is no contradiction here. They were able to spread way out. Also I stated above there were fewer than 500 people in the stands. Actually much fewer at any given moment. ( The last sentence is from general observation)

When you said the above… then that picture happens and now you’re saying something else the below is a very easy jump.

While I generally like to give folks a chance to defend their actions rather than jump to conclusions like this… @snoman you’re making it hard.

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It is very possible a team member contracted Covid earlier this week and spread it to their team in the hours of sitting within 6 feet in the stands. The fact that they were working together throughout the season does not prevent this spread from occuring.

The Minnesota COVID-19 Sports Practice and Game Guide requires 6 feet between spectators or household groups:

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I’m not much a fan of polls, and these two really highlight why. That’s a lot of gotcha answers to choose from right there…

Shoot, also realized I just broke my own rule about keeping my nose out of threads that will get out of hand quickly.

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I disagree that meetings are (unconditionally) reckless. We have had in-person meetings this build season with zero cases on our team because we used appropriate protocols(1). By way of comparison, most of our kids are doing in-person school and the school district has not been anywhere near as successful.

(1) huge building with big garage doors, limited numbers, limited duration, masked 100%, don’t come if you feel unwell, etc

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I completely agree. I had a hard time coming up with poll options that I thought would reflect the range of community opinions. No intention on my part to create “gotcha” questions. I also left the results anonymous with that same idea in mind.

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1 person taking a 1:1,000 risk and 10,000 people taking 1:1000 risks are very different problems.

Much of the US is ready to take their 1:1,000 risk.

Or actively is taking it.

This has consequences for all of us, unfortunately.

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Thanks for saying that. I don’t disagree that some need more shame, but generally I’ve thought most FIRST teams have done as well as we can expect. I do have to stress to sometimes bring up that just because x, y, or z or doing something in a riskier way that we don’t have to follow that course. But I understand that they sometime lack the experience, or are influenced enough by peer behavior to not see it that way.

I think with meetings it has been our goal to provide a safer environment than students would find on their own. I’d like to believe when activities are not meeting that students would be safer not coming together, but the truth is that they would get together anyhow, many of them anyway, under the social pressure of being with friends and likely with less care. Some communities are more able to teach children to manage in this new environment, but for some it is a much larger leap due to a general technology gap. Some of my hope is that we bridge some of that for their future as well, but that is another point.

I’d agree that imperfect measures for events have been done and either more measures or more time for ramping to larger events is needed. I think it is hard to see also because everyone’s assessment is skewed naturally. I’m not saying folks in other places can’t pull up other areas numbers or look directly and conclude that their is a higher risk behavior, but that it is easy to put a personal bias and not entirely understand some of the social/political pressures that are constantly in interplay with knowledge derived through data and scientific understanding.

Judging certain timing and facts for meetings and events is not an exact science and we will have stumbles as the community feels safer to return to more activities. The decisions to attend a small and eventually larger gatherings is weighing risks versus the benefits, which aren’t just for fun, though admittedly fun is a reason me and I think a lot enjoy robotics. I guess I would say our thought process was about the future sustainability of FRC programs in our area, and for us that showing up whether virtually or in-person (after considering risks) to support other teams programs. Anyways, as a participating team there is a cascading level of permissions and looking at risk that starts with the host and their abilities with county and school official, down to your permissions of school and parents, and finally to figuring of view of the risks based on community risks. Maybe part of what this is about is how easily the buck gets passed along so that these checks don’t really work. Or maybe it is about how restrictions that are stated won’t get followed in practice. Both are real concerns teams will have to deal with going forward. I can’t say I really know the right path here, but I hope that event hosts and potential ones carefully consider all these risks beyond just passing it up to health officials that have already been bypassed.

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To actually contribute to the thread in a productive manner:

Certainly some events got it wrong, or didn’t do the right things to prevent spread of COVID-19 at their venues. While well intentioned of starting events again, I do agree that it’s too early, and here’s why.

Let’s talk data → there’s another thread on a similar topic recently, and I have some “feelings” there, but let’s be good scientists and look at some data here.

At the moment, not enough people in the US have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to reasonably require full vaccination for an event happening today. Only 25% of the US has been fully vaccinated to date (source for most is NYT data aggregate: Covid-19 Vaccine Rollout: County and State Tracker - The New York Times, and people in that group do not make up a majority of participants or mentors in FRC events.

Currently, cases in the US are going up, with a 14-day change in case rates of +5% (source, for this and other covid non-vaccine data is again NYT: Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count - The New York Times)

For now, I’d agree that @krf is right → events held today are reckless. Large gatherings of people, masked or not, can’t be reasonably safe without lower community transmission rates or higher vaccination rates.

This looks likely to change, and I imagine FIRST events will be back in force in late summer through the fall. As @dirtbikerxz pointed out, some events get it right and others don’t. For now, I don’t think there is any way to get it right until vaccination numbers increase.

For some opinion now…

I really hope @snoman and others involved with NMRC are transparent with the outcome of the event, and share data with their state and local officials as well as with the FRC community either here on Chief or those who attended.

Is there any requirement for teams who had a student or other participant who tested positive after the event to reach out to the event organizers? Will event organizers be doing any contact tracing efforts (alerting teams in similar colored pits, etc) on their own? What is the plan for all of these possibilities, if there is one?

Perhaps the best discouragement of an event from happening too early is this “what if” planning. What if someone tests positive after the event, who has to make the phone call to mentors who might themselves be older and at risk?

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This is largely what Im hoping to see a discussion about.

The reality is in an ideal world not meeting until the threat from COVID has passed would be the right solution. We all want to protect students. However, that has a real cost, students lose opportunities they may have had. We are all trying to weigh those costs and I’d like to see folks discuss how best to still provide those opportunities for inspiration in the imperfect world we live in.

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As I understand it, the event organizers have a list of every single person who was attending the event including student/mentor participants, volunteers, and facility staff. There is going to be a survey sent to everybody about their event experience, as well as questions about whether they or anybody on their team has developed any symptoms.

The event split teams in the pit area so they only interacted with half of the teams at the event, and separated the pit area from the stands. If anybody were to report symptoms, the event organizers have all the tools and information necessary to inform the correct people.

I’m certain that the event organizers will share the outcome of the event with the rest of the FIRST community. Here’s hoping there is good news shared in the next 2 weeks, and the safety precautions for the event are validated.

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