SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The San Diego Convention Center reopened on Sunday for its first event since March of 2020, when officials shut down large public gatherings due to the pandemic
The first scheduled convention on the calendar was for SPIE Optics + Photonics. The convention runs from Aug. 1-5.
"It's a member society of engineers, scientists, and academics who all work in the field of photonics, lasers, optics, cameras," said SPIE CEO Kent Rochford.
"It's been fun kind of taking off the rust and making this happen. What we've really come to understand is when people are doing scientific collaborations, they want to talk in person," said Rochford.
He said the convention has been happening in San Diego for decades but was canceled last year because of the pandemic. This year, it has been scaled down a bit without international travelers. Rochford said typically there are about 4,000 attendees; this year, it's approximately 1,400.
He said they have taken a strict approach to returning.
"Employees that travel will be vaccinated, and we're going to require masks among employees," he explained.
Right now, masks are required for all unvaccinated attendees at convention center events and recommended for those fully vaccinated.
For mega-events with 5,000 people or more, attendees must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.
"It is an absolute moment for us to have this type of activity back in the building," said Maren Dougherty, the executive director of marketing and communications for the convention center.
She said between March 2020 and July 2021, about 150 events were canceled, rescheduled, or turned virtual.
The convention center was used to house homeless San Diegans during the pandemic, then migrant children seeking aslyum.
"Those events had a collective, estimated regional economic impact of more than 2 billion dollars in San Diego."
With COVID-19 cases back on the rise as the delta-variant continues to spread, the top priority is still safety. The convention center will continue to follow CDC, state, and local guidance, making changes if necessary.
"In our exhibit hall, it is a large space, it is well ventilated, we do pay attention to that air quality," she said.
Several more events are planned for August, including a celebration of life for Father Joe Carroll on the 10th.