Facebook won’t host any large physical events, including the planned Oculus Connect 7 in San Jose, California, of 50 or more people through June 2021 because of COVID-19, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on Thursday.
Facebook’s decision comes as schools, colleges and businesses of all types grapple with when to return to semi-normal operations in phases that could stretch until 2022 or even longer.
Also on Thursday, President Trump announced a three-phase gating process to serve as a roadmap to the nation’s governors and other leaders in the process of bringing workers back to physical work places, students back to classes, and to allow people to visit restaurants, bars, concerts and sporting events.
COVID-19 has killed at least 146,000 people worldwide and infected more than 2.1 million people, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Even though elected leaders will be setting minimum guidelines for returning to a modicum of normalcy, some business leaders like Zuckerberg at Facebook are stepping up independently to make decisions about their own companies.
Zuckerberg announced the cancellation of any planned Facebook physical events with 50 or more people through June 2021 in a Facebook post, noting that some will be virtual events instead. Oculus Connect 7, which was held last September as Oculus Connect 6 in San Jose, will shift to a “digital format later this year,” according an update on the Oculus blog, although it isn’t clear how much of the digital content will actually be virtual.
In February, Facebook canceled its annual F8 software developer conference over COVID-19 concerns. Microsoft said in early April it would move events through 2020 to a digital format.
Facebook, which owns Oculus and the event, will donate $500,000 to organizations serving local San Jose residents. Facebook’s headquarters is in Menlo Park, California, also within the Silicon Valley. Overall, the company employs nearly 45,000 workers.
Zuckerberg also said Facebook will require the vast majority of employees to work at least through the end of May to make it safer for people in critical jobs who must be in the office and others in the community. “Even beyond this next period, guidance from health experts is that it won’t be advisable to have large groups of people together for a while,” he said.
Facebook’s decision about large gatherings is likely to resonate with other conferences held through Silicon Valley in the coming year and could influence the decision-making process at other organizations in other locations. Some colleges and schools that are now holding virtual classes are weighing whether to move to physical classes in the fall.
President Trump said some states are ready to move even as early as Friday to a Phase One of the opening of the economy because of the need to put people back to work. More than 22 million people have filed for unemployment nationwide in the past month, far greater than the numbers experienced in the 2008 recession.
Under the “Opening Up America Again” guidelines prepared by the Trump administration, regions and states must see a 14-day decline of documented COVID-19 cases and reported flu-like illness before proceeding to the first phase of the three-phase program. They also must have a robust testing program in place for at-risk health care workers and enough protective gear, ventilators and beds to treat all their patients.
Many medical experts and business leaders have said the process of fully returning to work and near normal activities won’t be possible until there is a COVID-19 vaccine widely available, which probably won’t be possible until 2021 or even 2022.