What AHCJ is doing to make HJ22 safe (and well worth the trip)

With just a few days left before early-bird registration ends, AHCJ’s staff have been finalizing conference planning at Health Journalism 2022, which takes place April 28-May 1 at the Hilton Austin. Health and safety are top of mind.

Travis County, where Austin is located, was at a relatively low level 2 on a risk scale of 5 on Friday, March 25, even as spring break and the festival season brought many visitors through the city.

Members who haven’t registered yet have until April 8, but the early bird discount ends on Monday, March 28, at 11:59 a.m. CST.

Still on the fence about traveling to Austin? Here’s what you should know about what’s being done to offer a safe, valuable and fun conference.

To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission at Health Journalism 2022, AHCJ is implementing several safety protocols in addition to those established by the Hilton Austin.

  • AHCJ is requiring attendees to be up to date on boosters as recommended by age group by the CDC.
  • All conference attendees will be prompted via text message to provide proof of vaccination and appropriate booster before arriving at the conference. Waivers for medical and religious exemptions will also be accepted.
  • Masking will be required in all meeting rooms, corridors and other spaces where social distancing may be difficult, as well as on field trip buses and indoors on those trips. A cloth mask alone will not meet the requirement. (AHCJ will have a small supply of KN95s if you lose or forget your mask.) Speakers will be permitted to remove their mask when speaking and answering questions.
  • Social distancing is built into meeting room setup with as much space as possible between seats. The Hilton’s meeting rooms are spacious.
  • Color-coded stickers to indicate comfort level with social interaction will be available at the registration desk.
  • The hotel also recently installed air handlers to improve filtration on the sixth floor of the Hilton, where AHCJ sessions and gatherings will occur, as well as on the fourth floor, where PitchFest will take place.

Rooms are sold out at the Hilton Austin, but registrants can reserve rooms at the overflow hotel — the highly rated Hyatt Place, a five-minute walk from the conference hotel. AHCJ staff have secured a block of rooms and a conference rate of $249 per night. (Use this link to secure a reservation in the AHCJ room block. Information is available on the hotel’s website about Hyatt safety protocols.)

Sign-ups open April 1 for this year’s two field trips. Field trip #1, sponsored by the St. David’s Foundation, will take participants to a community clinic, embedded in a neighborhood “health equity zone.” It’s a unique example of a hub addressing many social determinants of health to improve health outcomes of children, their families, and older adults. Participants will tour the facility and meet the care team for this integrated, whole-person care model. Next, participants will travel to Austin’s most talked-about neighborhood: Community First! Village, a master-planned, innovative community on 51 acres in East Austin that provides affordable, permanent housing and a supportive community for people transitioning out of chronic homelessness.

Field trip #2, sponsored by the University of Texas at Austin and Dell Medical School, will give participants a deep look at the brain-machine interface, neuroplasticity and electroceuticals. A trip to the VisLab will give participants an exciting opportunity to see computational medicine on display, followed by a talk by Lauren Ancel Meyers on how computational modeling aided the global response to COVID-19. Then it’s a short walk over to the neurorobotics lab of Dr. James Sulzer, who will talk about how his daughter’s traumatic brain injury changed the way he and his team approach translating personal clinical need to research.

The association encourages members to carefully review the recommendations of the CDC for everyday precautions to help reduce the spread of respiratory diseases.

Although members may be understandably concerned about an uptick in Omicron subvariant BA.2 cases, White House Chief Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci, M.D., noted recently that COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continued to decline nationwide. He also said he did not expect the U.S. to see a major surge in cases, according to a Washington Post Live discussion.

However, AHCJ will continue to closely monitor the situation with COVID-19 (coronavirus) and in Travis County and will adjust conference protocols as needed.

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