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Since COVID-19 hit the United States, disciplinary organizations have struggled with holding their meetings. Early in the pandemic, most of the organizations converted their meetings to virtual formats; for the last two years, many groups have tried to meet in person, but bad luck has hurt some of those efforts.

Consider the American Sociological Association. It will hold its annual meeting from Aug. 5 to 9. It will be the first time the association will meet in person since 2019. The sociologists were expecting 5,000 people to attend.

But the location of the meeting has raised some concerns. The ASA will meet in Los Angeles, where cases of the latest variation of coronavirus, the version that is super contagious, have been increasing. Public health experts have said people who are fully vaccinated are unlikely to get very sick if they get infected with the new variant of the virus. But people still don’t want to get it, and some who were scheduled to attend the meeting in person are now canceling.

“We’re looking forward to a robust meeting in Los Angeles,” said Nancy Kidd, executive director of the association. “Unsurprisingly, given the circumstances, some people are deciding at the last minute to join us, and others are deciding not to attend.”

The association had previously required that all attendees be vaccinated and wear masks indoors.

But the association announced a rules change this week.

“When we put together the program, we ask that people have roles in no more than two sessions to ensure that a wide range of sociologists have an opportunity for participation,” said Kidd. “Given that, as I said, some people are making attendance decisions closer to the time of the meeting—we don’t want session organizers to have to scramble to find a replacement If someone ends up being unable to attend. Waiving the two-appearance rule right now simply allows organizers more flexibility.”

On Twitter, Rin Reczek, a professor of sociology at Ohio State University, wrote of receiving the email from the ASA announcing the rule change.

“Guessing a boat-load of people are bailing on ASA this year?” she said.

The responses included:

  • “I’ve had a few in my session cancel, understandably. ASA is just past the point of being able to make big changes.”
  • “When there are no mask mandates on airplanes & presenters are permitted to unmask during sessions … the risk isn’t worth it. I feel awful for the grad students/junior folks who feel they have to take the risk.”
  • “2 of the 4 presenters in my session won’t be there because of budget problems. LA is too expensive.”
  • “That’s what happens when the conference is in an expensive location during an ongoing pandemic and the organisers refuse to provide a hybrid option. Sigh.”
  • “Most of us just simply can’t afford to go. It’s too expensive and travel budgets got slashed.”

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