I had my first experience indicating that things are starting to slowly get back to normal. I attended my first in-person rubber industry event since before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and shut down such gatherings.
It was the ACS Rubber Division's Spring Technical Meeting, put on April 27-29 in Independence, Ohio, but also presented as a hybrid event. That allowed those who were not ready to travel the chance to view the keynote speech and technical presentations online. And a good number of the speakers also gave their talks remotely, including the keynote speaker, who was live from Japan.
I admit it took a bit of a leap of faith to take that step and attend in person. I'll be honest—my wife and I had not eaten inside a restaurant during the pandemic, instead opting for a good deal of takeout. The luncheon on the opening day, the reception that night, and the awards banquet the second night were the first times I had eaten inside an establishment in more than a year.
It felt a bit strange, but I took solace knowing that I wasn't alone. A number of the people attending the Rubber Division meeting were in the same boat as I was. But there definitely was something nice about getting out and seeing people in person, a sentiment echoed by nearly everyone I talked with.
The Rubber Division staff deserves kudos for making the best of a tough situation—whether to make the entire event virtual (like last fall's International Elastomer Conference), or put on a hybrid event.
They made the right choice.
More than 90 people registered to attend in-person, and another 50 or so took part virtually.
Of course, being one of the first in-person events in the COVID-19 era meant seeing a few new twists. The welcome bag included a Rubber Division face mask, along with hand sanitizer. The snacks were individually wrapped. The 25 Year Club Luncheon was a box meal prepared by the hotel. And at the reception, rather than a large meat, cheese and hummus table, there were individual plates prepared for anyone who wanted them.
There also were the expected discussions about whether you or anyone close had suffered from COVID-19, along with whether you had been fully vaccinated yet or not. Other awkward decisions included how to greet people. Do you stick with a wave or an elbow bump? Or do you shake hands or hug?
Name tags were even more necessary, given that face masks remain part of current fashion.
All in all, I felt more comfortable at the end than I did at the beginning. One more small step toward "normal."
Meyer is editor of Rubber & Plastics News. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @bmeyerRPN.