The 2020 conference was poised to welcome more than 20,000 participants for four full days, July 6-10. Travelers from 170 countries around the globe expected to meet top researchers who would discuss in convention halls the newest HIV prevention strategies, the still-elusive HIV vaccine, and the long-term efficacy of medical treatments. They hoped to visit labs and HIV testing sites. They wanted to compare strategies for reaching sex workers and minority communities. In the midst of what would become an overload of information, attendees eagerly anticipated the Bay Area’s renowned restaurants, bars, clubs, and the tourist sites.
Then, COVID-19 appeared and everything changed.
For the first time since the first international AIDS conference was convened in Atlanta in 1985, the thousands of conference participants will forego face-to-face plenary sessions, lectures and poster talks. They won’t attend an elaborate reception in a city landmark. They won’t be gathering with San Francisco and Oakland mayors under the dome of San Francisco City Hall. Nor will they benefit from face-to-face interactions with peers. They won’t experience the same kind of camaraderie and support that has been one of the most important aspects of these conferences.
Early this year the organizers of “AIDS2020,” as this year’s gathering is known, hoped that the disturbing clouds of COVID19 would not disrupt their plans. Once the threat of the corona virus forced the Tokyo Olympics off the calendar this year, the risk of infection for thousands of people gathered in packed halls was far too great. The only options were to cancel AIDS2020 outright, postpone a year, or to live stream.
Live-streaming isn’t new anymore, to the point that the platform Zoom has entered English as a verb. Ever since most countries adopted some form of “sheltering in place,” millions of people have zoomed for business, chats with friends, and celebrations with family. Next up is the largest scientific gathering of the year, all live streamed. Stay tuned as AIDS2020 tests the final logistics to reach a worldwide audience with 12 plenary sessions, 27 workshops, 50 symposia, 62 abstract/poster talks, and 70 satellite session, beginning July 6. Learn more at aids2020.org
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