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'Like the Plague'

Samsung Among Those Forging Ahead With In-Person CES, as Others Bail

Newly promoted Samsung Electronics CEO Jong-Hee Han will use his CES 2022 keynote the evening of Jan. 4 at the Venetian's Palazzo Ballroom to discuss collaborations “with industry experts and partners to create a truly enhanced connected experience,” he blogged Wednesday. Han's commitment to forge ahead with his in-person keynote came as T-Mobile, Amazon, Twitter and other names big and small were abandoning travel to CES in Las Vegas for their health and safety amid spiking COVID-19 cases and the rapid spread of the omicron variant.

Opinions boiled to the surface Tuesday and Wednesday on both sides of the debate about whether it's safe to travel to Las Vegas CES or better to participate remotely through the show's digital component. One observer reasoned that with the various CES health and safety protocols in place, he would feel more protected in the Las Vegas Convention Center from the risk of an omicron infection than if he stayed home. But a prominent infectious disease expert, David Celentano, said he personally would avoid CES "like the plague." Celentano chairs the epidemiology department at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Amid the start of an exodus of companies and media from the in-person show, CTA was standing firm in its determination to move forward with the Jan. 5-8 event in Las Vegas. The show will convene "with strong safety measures in place," and a "global technology focus, including innovations developed to fight COVID-19," emailed a spokesperson Wednesday. "Thousands of entrepreneurs, businesses, media and buyers are planning to come to Las Vegas. Top leaders from federal and state and foreign governments are attending. And, we have received several thousand new registrants since late last week."

CTA is "confident that attendees and exhibitors will have a socially distanced but worthwhile and productive event," said the spokesperson. The show is requiring in-person participants to be fully vaccinated and is offering them free Abbott Labs BinaxNOW rapid antigen COVID-19 self-test kits (see 2112170033), but it's not requiring booster shots.

CTA didn’t comment about plans to fill T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert’s CES 2022 keynote slot after the carrier announced the "difficult decision" to keep the “vast majority” of its team home. “We are prioritizing the safety of our team and other attendees,” tweeted Sievert Tuesday evening.

Sievert "will no longer be offering a keynote in-person or virtually,” said the company. “T-Mobile’s entire team looks forward to an in-person CES 2023, which we hope includes an on-stage keynote in front of a live audience.” So rapidly moving were developments Tuesday into Wednesday that Sievert’s keynote slot at 2 p.m. PST on the show’s opening day was still actively posted on the CES 2022 website early Wednesday. By midday, the page was gone.

Other companies said Wednesday they're watching conditions on the ground. Sony Electronics, "where we stand today," is "currently planning on joining CES 2022 in person, and we will also offer a digital option for our press event," set for 5 p.m. on Jan. 4, emailed a spokesperson. "With an eye on safety, we continue to closely monitor the evolving situation of COVID-19 and variants.”

'Quickly Shifting Situation'

An Amazon spokesperson emailed Wednesday confirming the tech giant won't have an onsite CES presence due to the “quickly shifting situation and uncertainty around the Omicron variant.” The "health and safety of our employees is our top priority.”

Pinterest won't send a contingent to Las Vegas for CES, said a senior official familiar with the company's plans. Pinterest previously planned a scaled down CES presence from years past, but made the final decision to cancel in the past few days amid the spike in new COVID cases tied to the omicron variant, said the official Wednesday.

Media reports counting Nvidia among companies just now pulling out of physical CES are wrong, emailed a spokesperson Wednesday. "Our presence was always virtual," he said. Nvidia was "cautious from the start" about participating in CES in-person, he said. It's scheduled to deliver a "virtual special address" on the second CES media day, Jan. 4, at 8 a.m. PST, he said.

Forbes contributor Patrick Moorhead tweeted Tuesday he still planned to attend since omicron symptoms resemble a cold or flu for those who have been vaccinated, and only one death in the U.S. so far has been attributed to the latest variant: “If that changes, I will reassess.”

Arris Surfboard and CommScope announced the “difficult decision” to cancel their physical presence at CES 2022 in midday Wednesday tweets, calling the health and safety of customers, employees and partners their priority. “While many of us globally were looking forward to finally attending major trade shows and other industry events, CommScope does not feel this is the right environment to do so." The company was looking forward to showcasing its home networking solutions "and was excited to share some great news with our customers in person; however, CommScope will do this when it is safe for all of us to do so."

Healthcare company Jasper Health retreated, "with heavy heart," from its onsite CES plans Wednesday, tweeted CEO Adam Pellegrini. “We had an awesome booth ready to roll (literally) but as a healthcare company it would not be in the spirit of our mission to put staff on the ground during a surge.” CEO Mitch Goldstone, a self-described CES veteran since 1990, advocated for canceling CES 2022, in an unsigned Wednesday tweet. “I’ve never encountered a debacle greater than the full-blown turmoil as exhibitors and attendees demand #CES2022 cancel the Petri dish-like Vegas convention,” he said, urging “safety over profiteering.”

Several CE industry publicists took to social media to affirm their attendance in Las Vegas. In response to an informal survey about CES plans, Dave Arland, president of Arland Communications, said he will be at the show “just as I have been for 30 years.” Consumer Reports Senior Editor James Willcox responded to the survey, saying he canceled reservations Friday due to the danger of infection and the risk of being “quarantined for two weeks in Las Vegas.” Willcox also noted the companies that are “bailing or reducing their presence” as additional rationale for his decision.

'Boosted. Tested. Masked.'

Caster Communications President Kim Lancaster tweeted Wednesday that she will be in Las Vegas, “Boosted. Tested. Masked. Sweating. But, doing business.” The industry needs CES 2022 to succeed “to prove this is possible if people respect each other,” Lancaster said, directing attendees to her planned post at TechWest in the Venetian with client Z-Wave Alliance. Wirecutter Senior Editor Grant Clauser responded to Lancaster’s tweet, saying he “wished things were different, but we need to be realistic. Gathering 100K people together yelling to be heard, crowding in monorails, eating in restaurants ... just not a good idea right now.”

Dan Seifert, deputy editor at The Verge, announced his tech blog's decision not to go to CES 2022, tweeting Wednesday: “As many of our colleagues in the industry have also decided, we at the @verge are no longer attending CES in person and will be covering it fully remotely again this year.”

Dwight Silverman, tech writer for the Houston Chronicle and former Forbes contributor, tweeted Tuesday that with omicron surging, “going to #CES2022 is not advised.” Even for those masked and boosted, "it's too risky,” Silverman said. “Remember: CES 2020 was the first superspreader event.” After tweeting Dec. 9 that he would attend CES 2022, Input Mag Senior Reviews Editor Ray Wong updated his status Wednesday, saying the online magazine won’t be attending the show due to omicron’s “rapid spread.” Its team will cover CES remotely, he said.

CES should "immediately cancel its plans for an in-person conference,” behavioral scientist John Allegrante, a professor at Columbia University, told us. “Omicron is surging, and we cannot predict what the rates of infection and spread will be in one month from now,” he said: “No responsible group should be convening large numbers of people, fully vaccinated and masked or not, for events that can readily be organized as a Zoom meeting."

Since it won't likely be feasible "to screen and test all attendees who have traveled from throughout the world before they walk in the doors, CES needs to put lives over costs and pivot toward an online platform for its meeting, or cancel the trade show altogether," said Allegrante. To do otherwise is “simply irresponsible and will place thousands at risk for infection or reinfection with the virus,” he said.

But Jan Jones, University of New Haven professor of hospitality and tourism, argued that "to cancel these large events that were finally getting back on track, would be devastating not only to event management venues but to all the industries involved,” she said. Some potential attendees “want to travel, have taken all the necessary precautions and know that there is a chance they could get sick, or have been sick and want to move forward with travel plans now,” she said.

Some posted on Twitter they still plan to attend. “Why are the tech giants pulling out of @CES?” asked Matthew Frankel, a certified financial planner who said he's going to the show. “They are requiring vaccines, masks, AND on-site rapid tests,” he said: “I feel my chances of getting COVID are much higher if I stay home and just go about life in South Carolina where literally none of that is required.”

Boost Mobile founder Peter Adderton "read the health-and-safety protocol and went, Nope,” he tweeted. “The whole reason you go to CES is to meet with people. If you can’t do that safely, there’s no reason to go.”