As someone who’s frequently been asked to travel and give talks over the last decade or so, I’ve had an evolving calculation to determine when a trip is “worth” it. This includes assessing financial cost to me (whether accommodations and travel are paid for; whether my time being paid for or not); opportunity cost (if I do this trip, what can’t I do that I would be doing otherwise); relationship and family cost (time away from family); as well as wellness cost (such as jet lag and physical demands of travel during and after a trip).
It’s clearly not a straightforward calculation and it has changed over time. Some things can influence this calculation – for example, if someone is willing to pay for my time and indicate that they value my presence by doing so, I may factor that in as a higher signal of whether this trip might be “worth” it, among the other variables. (And I’ve written previously about all the reasons why people, including patients, should be paid for their time in giving talks and traveling for conferences, meetings, and events, and I still believe this. However, there *are* exceptions that I personally am willing to make regarding payment for my time, but those are unique to me, my situation, my choices, the type of organization or meeting, etc. and I make these exceptions on a case by case basis.)
The pandemic also changed this calculation by adding new variables.
After February 2020, I did not complete any travel for work (including giving talks, attending conferences, etc.) for the rest of the year or in 2021. I was an early voice for interventions for COVID-19 beginning in February 2020, in part because of the risk to the community around me as well as to the risk to myself as someone who has type 1 diabetes. I received a few in-person speaking invitations that I turned down directly, or encouraged them to evolve into virtual events so that I and others could participate safely.
Now, though, it’s becoming clear (sadly) that COVID-19 will be endemic, and although I am not ready to go back to in-person events, many people are, and conferences are increasingly returning and planning to return to in-person physical events moving forward.
And as a result, I see and experience a mismatch in risk tolerance and risk calculations among different groups of people.
For some people, the risk calculation is as simple as considering, “am I fully vaccinated? Then I’m good to go and attend any events and follow whatever regulation or lack of regulation exists for that conference.”
For other people, it is a more complex risk calculation. It may take into account whether they are someone with a condition or chronic illness that puts them at higher risk for severe outcomes, even with COVID-19 vaccination. It may take into account a loved one or family situation where someone close to them is at higher risk. It may take into account that there are different rates of COVID-19 cases, and different rates of vaccination, at their home location compared to the conference location. It may take into account the risk of disruption to their lives if they were to acquire COVID-19 during travel or at the conference and be forced to remain in a different city or country, sick and alone, until they were cleared to travel. That also includes the financial disruption of paying for lodging, changed travel plans, as well as any disruption to home life where childcare or other plans were upended at home while the person was stuck elsewhere.
It is, therefore, much more complicated than “am I vaccinated?” and “does the conference have a protocol?”.
There’s no straightforward answer; there may not be the same answer for everyone in the same situation. Therefore people are also likely to have different risk calculations to make and may arrive at a different decision than you might want them to make.
I hope we can all expand our awareness and recognize that different people have different situations and that the COVID-19 pandemic – still – affects all of us very differently.