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How Is The COVID-19 Delta Variant Impacting Trade Shows

How Is The COVID-19 Delta Variant Impacting Trade Shows

The event industry was enjoying a nice rebound this summer as concerts, festivals, and live events started reopening to eager crows. Large shows like World Of Concrete in Las Vegas ushered in what promised to be a short but busy 2021 trade show season. 

With vaccines available, the economy growing, and the CDC loosening mask and spacing guidelines, everything seemed to be turning around. 

Then the Delta variant of COVID-19 hit the United States and made many of us question our plans for the fall and winter. 

When it comes to trade shows in the second half of 2021, there is both concerning and encouraging news. Unfortunately, there is also a fair amount of unknown at this point.

The Concerning News About The Delta Variant and Trade Shows In The Second Half Of 2021

Let's take a look at some of the things that are concerning regarding the Delta variant and how it impacts trade shows moving forward in 2021. 

1. Concerning Delta Variant Facts

As we learn more information about the Delta variant, it’s clear that we must be cautious. This is a dangerous virus that must be taken seriously by all event professionals and attendees.  

  • This new variant of COVID-19 spreads more than twice as fast as the Alpha version and at about the same rate as chicken pox
  • From July 9th to August 6th, the U.S. saw an increase of roughly 93,000 new daily cases as reported by the CDC Data Tracker.


2. Delta Cases In U.S. Are Rising Rapidly 

It’s not surprising news that the Delta variant of COVID is spreading in the America but that rate at which it is spreading has been staggering. 

The “Delta variant, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) caused between 80% and 87% of all U.S. COVID-19 cases in the last 2 weeks of July—up from 8% to 14% in early June. The variant’s exceptional infectiousness has driven cases from a 7-day average of 13,500 daily cases in early June to 92,000 on 3 August. At the same time, an internal CDC document that leaked last week says the variant may make people sicker, citing published reports from Singapore and Scotland and a preprint from Canada.”(Science.org

CDC Poster about Covid 19 Delta
CDC poster showing how contagious the delta variant is compared to the alpha.

These concerns are compounded in areas that have low vaccination rates that are fueling the rapid spread and severe illness.  

Here is a snippet from a recent Healthline article discussing this top. “Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Healthline. “If those unvaccinated are high risk for hospitalization, and there are many of them in a geographic area, it could be problematic for hospitals.”

“That’s what’s occurring in places such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Florida, where local leaders have resisted basic precautions like mask mandates and vaccination rates among young adults remain low.”

Map courtesy of NY Times

To add more confusion and uncertainty, a recent study by the Israeli Health Ministry found that two doses of Pizer-BioNTech vaccine was only 39% effective against infection, though very effective against severe illness.

A similar study in the U.K. found the same vaccine to be 88% effective against the delta variant infection.  

With so much confusion and rapidly increasing numbers, it’s clear to see why events, exhibitors, and attendees could become more and more hesitant to produce or attend a live event right now. Even if the trade show  itself is safe, allowing staff to travel has to be a concern to some degree. 

3. Major Trade Shows Have Already Been Cancelled Due To The Delta Variant Spread 

It was always assumed that some events could cancel or reschedule if any sort of virus variant emerged during the summer or fall. When the Delta variant became prevalent in the United States it was almost assured that some events would be canceled. 

When the New York International Auto Show announced it would cancel its late august show due to the rising risk and mandates associated with Delta variant, it sent a sinking feeling across the event industry. 

The NYIA was considered by some to be an important benchmark event in the return of trade shows. Unfortunately, when the show was canceled, it sent a clear message that we are still fighting this pandemic over a year and a half after it started.  

While the New York Auto Show isn't the only U.S. event to recently cancel,The North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers is an example of another, it is the largest and most significant throughout the industry.

Some events, instead of cancelling or postponing, are switching from in-person to virtual. Isaac Rothwell, national director of business development, Digerati Productions, recently told BizBash.com that "I had a large conference in early September switch to virtual after over 40 presenters backed out of attending in person." 

Unfortunately, if the new daily infection rates keep climbing in America, we can expect to see more events, especially international shows, canceled, postponed, or switching back to the virtual format. 

The Encouraging News About The Delta Variant and Trade Shows In The Second Half Of 2021


We have learned a lot about the Delta variant in the past couple of months and there are some encouraging things we can take away from it. 

1. Encouraging Facts About The Delta Variant

  • “Nationally, 97% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, as of July 22. Vaccines are highly effective at preventing COVID-19 infection and are also effective in fighting against the Delta variant (UC Davis Health).” To be clear, It’s never encouraging when anyone needs to be hospitalized from the effects of COVID. The encouraging part is that this statistic shows, in general, vaccinated people are far less likely to have a serious illness due to any current version of COVID.
  • The U.S. is seeing a rise in COVID vaccinations for the first time in several months. As of August 2nd, the CDC estimates that, “49.6%, of the US population is fully vaccinated. The number is 58.1% among vaccine-eligible Americans, 12 and older. Twenty states have fully vaccinated more than half of their residents.”

2. The Delta Variant May Fade Quickly

There are a lot of unknowns about the Delta variant but one trend has started to emerge in Europe and India. A huge spike, followed by a significant decrease in infections. 

Both the UK and Scotland experienced huge initial Delta infection spikes, the same as the U.S., but both countries saw significant drops shortly after. “As of Aug. 3, U.K. cases have dropped to 7,467, compared to more than 46,800 July 19.”

India, where the Delta variant originated, is seeing similar drops in Delta specific infection rates.”Daily cases skyrocketed from roughly 10,000 in early February to a peak of 414,188 by May 7. But within just a month, cases had dropped nearly 80% to 85,801. On Tuesday, the country recorded 30,549 new cases.”(Fortune

Some scientists believe that vaccines and the rapid pace at which the virus spreads through unvaccinated populations may lead to the quick “burnout” countries are seeing. If that’s the case, the recent flair ups in the south of the U.S. and increased vaccination rates could lead to a significant drop in new infections. 

Scott Gottlieb, MD and former FDA Director believes that we could start seeing a drop very soon. He actually guessed around August 11, 2021. Still, other doctors are less optimistic with some guessing September all the way to mid-October. Amesh Adalia, MD of Johns Hopkins thinks it’s hard to put a date on it but a decline will come as “more people get infected and develop natural immunity." (WebMD)

It is fair to note that some Doctors such as Tom Frieden point out that the U.S. surge is larger than the UK surge. Since the U.S. vaccination uptake was lower than that of the U.K., we could see a slower drop. 

Tweet from Dr. Tom Frieden showing a UK/US comparison of the number of COVID19 patients in the hospital during their delta surge.

What all this means for trade shows is that many fall events could be encouraged to continue in a live or hybrid capacity if we start seeing a significant decrease in daily infections, as many experts predict we will. It may just be a matter of timing between when the infection rate slows and when the show is scheduled. 

Also, many event and convention centers are taking needed precautions including mask mandates, required vaccination cards or recent negative tests, hand sanitation and more. 

3. Many Trade Shows Are Planning To Stay Live

Even as some shows are canceling, postponing, or going completely virtual, plenty of industry events plan to move forward with their live trade show in 2021. A few great examples are the International Pizza Expo, SuperZoo West, and the Las Vegas Market event.  

Las Vegas, the Convention Center and Casinos, currently have over 2,500 events planned from mid-August through mid-December. During that same time frame the Javits Center in New York City and the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando both are scheduled to host roughly 40 events. McCormick Place in Chicago has about 20 on their calendar.  

As of the middle of August, the outlook is still encouraging for trade shows in the second half of 2021. Additionally, as a company that sells trade show booths, we can confirm that many companies are ordering displays and are excited about their events this fall. 

4. Potential Added Value Of 2021 Trade Shows

Though many shows are reporting less in-person attendance than normal, they could be a great opportunity for your company. 

We’ve heard from our customers that some events are offering discounted rates on larger booth spaces this year. While the in -person attendance may be 75% or even 50% of a normal year, the opportunity to give your brand added authority at an industry event can be huge. 

Keep in mind that many events are offering hybrid options this year. That means important decision makers may not need to be at the event to take notice of your brand’s booth.This may at least put your company name in their head and make them research you more. 

People and companies who are attending the fall and winter events are serious about making those shows successful. Many companies are in a position, after 2020, where they are willing to explore new ideas and channels. Having a larger booth, or a booth at all, in this environment could be a game changer for your business. 


It’s clear that the trade show industry is still fighting with COVID over a year and half after we first understood what it was. 

The new delta variant has added another level of complexity to an already dynamic situation. 

It’s clear there is both excitement about live trade shows returning and apprehension over attending large in-person events.

As it sits right now, it appears that as several shows cancel, postpone,or go entirely virtual,  many industry events intend to have their live show this year with strict health and safety regulations.

Many of the pre-summer restrictions such as mask mandates and added spacing are likely to be reinstated in accordance with the CDC guidelines for fully vaccinated people. Some shows will require all exhibitors and guests to be vaccinated while others will offer rapid test options for non-vaccinated attendees. 

The hope is that the delta variant “burns out” quickly and the vaccination numbers rise sharply. This combination gives live events their best chance of sustaining success in the second half of 2021.

August 12, 2021
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