Category Archives: WisCon 2022

WisCon 2022 Post-Con COVID-19 Report

At two weeks past the end of the con and most folks’ travel back home, we are now outside the incubation window for COVID-19 that could be plausibly related to the physical WisCon 2022 convention. We’d like to take this chance to give an overview of our COVID-19 safety measures, and their results. We hope sharing this information can be helpful not just to our own members as they continue to make decisions about their safety this year and up to the next WisCon, but also for any other organizations trying to hold safer events in the pandemic times.

Having a Physical In-Person Convention at All

The first question in COVID-19 safety considerations is whether an in-person event should be happening at all, and we’ve had some people ask about why we chose to hold one. Our answer, which is the same for many other cons in our situation, was that we had already committed to hold WisCon 2022 back in 2019 when we signed a contract with the Madison Concourse Hotel. It’s standard practice to sign these hotel contracts several years in advance to reserve the space, and WisCon typically signs ours two to three years out. These contracts specify very high penalties for cancellation, increasing as the date gets closer, with a few strict exceptions. One of those exceptions is an act of government that prevents the event from taking place. In Spring 2020, indoor gatherings were prohibited by local public health ordinance, allowing us to cancel the planned physical WisCon without penalty and instead hold a fully virtual event. In 2021, Dane County (where Madison is located and WisCon is held) still had some restrictions on large gatherings, but it may have been technically possible to hold an event with drastic changes to the format. However, we made it clear to the hotel that we would not be able to fulfill our 2021 obligations under those conditions. Because we have a very good relationship with the hotel, they very graciously did not charge us a penalty for cancellation and proposed a much smaller, non-WisCon event to help generate some revenue.

However, for 2022, there was no superseding ordinance. If we cancelled the event, the contract stipulated that we would owe the hotel much, much more money than WisCon or SF3 has, rendering the organization insolvent and ensuring that there would be no more WisCons ever. So our options were to try to hold the safest in-person WisCon we could— or never have any WisCons again. As it is, we will still owe the hotel a lot of money because the event we were able to have was still much smaller than the WisCon envisioned and expected when the contract was signed in 2019.

But! With very many thanks for your help to #SaveWisCon, between our fundraising and fulfilling a sizable portion of our 2022 obligation, we will remain solvent and have the resources to run another in-person con in 2023. We have specifically — and with much, much patience and grace from the hotel — held off on signing anything for 2023 until we could reasonably guarantee our own solvency and the safety of our members, and also until we saw how things went in 2022 so that we could negotiate for an appropriate size and obligation for WisCon 2023. The WisCon 2022 ConCom, the SF3 Board, and the hotel have been working together to put both WisCon and the hotel in a good position for next year.

COVID-19 Safety Measures for WisCon 2022

As we were obliged to hold an in-person event, we wanted to make sure it was as safe as possible. The following measures were taken by the hotel, the ConCom, and the COVID-19 Safety Team in particular:
  • The ConCom instituted a vaccination policy that required all members to be “up to date” on their vaccinations/boosters and show proof before picking up their badges. The registration desk (including vaccine checking) was in a separate room, rather than out in the open on the second floor, to help separate possibly un- or under-vaccinated members from the general con space. There were no exceptions to our vaccine policy, meaning that those who could not be vaccinated (including all children under 5) could not attend in-person. The policy also included contractors and vendors such as our childcare providers, our CART providers, and the dealers in the Dealers’ Room.
  • The ConCom instituted a masking policy requiring well-fitting masks in all public WisCon spaces, with unmasking only permissible for necessary sips or bites. As people have different intake needs for food, drink, or meds for their health, safety, and comfort, we trusted our members to follow the spirit of this policy. And, with notably few exceptions that were addressed and corrected without conflict, WisCon members overwhelmingly followed the masking policy in WisCon spaces. We also strongly recommended high-quality medical-grade masks rather than cloth masks or other types of masks, and provided such masks to in-person WisCon members for free at the Info Desk.
  • The ConCom, COVID-19 Safety Team, and Communications Committee encouraged members to test as much as they were able before, during, and after the con, and provided free rapid testing kits as well as information on where to obtain rapid testing kits and PCR tests locally.
  • The ConCom instituted a 600-member in-person attendance cap (down from our typical 800-900 attendance) to ensure that WisCon-exclusive spaces were less crowded. However, this came with tradeoffs in regards to other hotel guests, not subject to our policies, taking up more of the non-WisCon-exclusive spaces. Please see our final case report and takeaways (below) for additional related considerations. Our final in-person attendance was approximately 407 people.
  • The hotel agreed to a masking policy for hotel employees while in WisCon event spaces.
  • The day before WisCon started, the hotel changed out all of its air filters on the 6th floor, where a number of WisCon spaces such as ConSuite, Kids’ Programming, Teen Programming, and Parties were.
  • The Parties policy was changed such that no food, and only non-alcoholic beverages, could be served. As Parties are WisCon spaces, masking was still required between sips.
  • The ConSuite underwent a complete change of format, removing the buffet-style service of meals cooked by volunteers. Only individually pre-packaged food was served, and meal vouchers were provided so members who needed them could obtain free hot meals at the hotel or a nearby restaurant following their own safety needs and comfort levels. We also had designated rooms for eating for those who were not staying in the hotel and could not eat in their rooms.
  • The Dessert Salon (which includes the Guest of Honor speeches) was changed to a takeaway format, with no eating at the salon itself during the speeches and the desserts served afterwards in containers. Dessert Salon seating was changed to a reduced and spread out auditorium format developed by the hotel (rather than seating people close together at round tables for eating and talking). The Dessert Salon ticket system for both seating and serving was modified to discourage crowding as people waited to be seated or served. The Dessert Salon was also streamed, and members attending in person who did not wish to be in the ballroom but still wanted a dessert could purchase a ticket, watch from wherever they felt comfortable, and come get a dessert after the event was over.
  • In all programming spaces, we requested and the hotel developed individual room layouts such that seating was reduced and spread out.
  • The 2022 Con Co-Chairs asked for and the SF3 Board approved a budget of $7,870 for the COVID-19 Safety Team; not all of these funds were used.
  • The COVID-19 Safety Team provided free N95 masks, hand sanitizer, and rapid testing kits to in-person WisCon members.
  • The COVID-19 Safety Team developed a reporting and contact tracing form for anyone who tested positive or was experiencing symptoms, including space for members to specify their locations and activities while at the con. The COVID-19 Safety Team sent emails with all shareable details of these reports twice a day (if new cases had been reported) as well as posting notifications in the WisCon Discord. The emails included information on local healthcare resources and were timed so that members would have the most up to date information in the morning and around mid-afternoon so they could make decisions regarding their morning/daytime or evening activities based on the latest data. The COVID-19 Safety Team had a member dedicated specifically to the task of communication, compiling and disseminating this information.
  • The COVID-19 Safety Team recruited at-con volunteers to help provide quarantining or isolating WisCon members with supplies such as food, testing kits, and medication without those members having to leave their rooms.
  • The COVID-19 Safety Team purchased five LEVOIT Core 400S commercial air purifiers to place in key locations around WisCon spaces.
  • The COVID-19 Safety Team purchased materials for 35 Corsi–Rosenthal Boxes to supplement the commercial air purifiers and the hotel’s HVAC system. The day before WisCon started, ConCom members, COVID-19 Safety Team members, and at-con volunteers constructed the boxes. Two fans were damaged in transit, so overall 33 functional Corsi-Rosenthal Boxes were constructed and deployed. Between the Corsi-Rosenthal Boxes and the commercial air purifiers, all public WisCon spaces such as rooms with programming items or administrative activities had at least one kind of supplemental air purification, with larger spaces having multiple boxes and/or purifiers. WisCon then retained 15 of the Corsi-Rosenthal Boxes for reuse (as many as would fit in our storage unit) and offered the rest for sale for a suggested donation of $20.
  • The Con Co-Chairs, the COVID-19 Safety Team, and the Online Con department developed a plan for pivoting to an entirely online event in the middle of the convention if we saw either a notable outbreak among in-person WisCon members or extremely high rates in Madison and Dane County. This plan was still contingent on us having started with a physical event in the first place due to the contract with the hotel, and included measures from multiple departments earlier in the process, such as Panels Programming asking all participants if they were comfortable being streamed during the panels matching and scheduling phases.
  • And, of course, we did our best to offer hybrid programming, including streaming of Guest of Honor speeches and three fully online programming tracks, so that members, whether in-person or online, could participate from their homes or hotel rooms.
We truly believe that the hotel, the ConCom, our Online Con department, our COVID-19 Safety Team, our at-con volunteers, and our entire in-person membership did a great job working together to keep everyone safe! Thank you all so, so much!

Final COVID-19 Case Report and Takeaways

Two weeks out from the end of the convention, we are stopping our case tracking efforts. While it’s impossible to say with any certainty whether some members arrived sick, contracted COVID-19 during travel to/from, or contracted COVID-19 at the con, we can, with much gratitude, report that we had a total reported count of 13 cases including one possible false positive, or 3% of our estimated 407 in-person attendance. That’s just about miraculous.

We want to especially extend our thanks to those who tested positive very soon after arriving and took the necessary measures to take care of themselves and keep those around them safe, up to and including leaving the convention entirely. We know it must have been so gut-wrenching and disappointing. Thank you.

Our COVID-19 reporting was sent directly to all members who had purchased an in-person membership, and sometimes included additional, voluntarily disclosed information such as names. An anonymized record of all 13 reported cases, including the possible false positive and location information, is available publicly at the link above.

Of the reported cases, a number cluster around the Governor’s Club Lounge, or the Governor’s Club Library. The Governor’s Club refers to floors 12 and 14 of the hotel, which require a specially coded room keycard to access. The Lounge is an open service bar located on the 12th floor that also serves breakfast, evening appetizers, and late night desserts, and requires the same keycard to access. (Note that this is a separate space from The Bar, which is a publicly accessible bar on the ground floor of the hotel.) The Library is a smaller room adjacent to the Lounge that serves tea and coffee, also requiring the same keycard. The Library and Lounge share a wall that has small decorative openings, meaning that the two rooms are not sealed off from one another and share some amount of air exchange, especially at the seating close by the wall on either side. While both of these spaces are popular with WisCon members, they are not WisCon-exclusive spaces subject to our masking and vaccination policies. In addition, other hotel guests were there, often taking different or no COVID-19 safety precautions, and many hotel guests staying on these floors (WisCon members or otherwise) bring other guests into these spaces.

In our (manifold) COVID-19 preparations and pre-con communications, we tried to stress that, because we expected to fill less of the hotel, there would be more non-WisCon guests at the hotel, not subject to our policies. We also can’t control what WisCon members, or any hotel guests, do in public spaces such as the lobby, non-WisCon-exclusive semipublic spaces such as the Governor’s Lounge, or private spaces such as individual guest rooms. Safety department volunteers, all three Con Co-Chairs, and additional ConCom members (as available) circulated in WisCon-exclusive spaces throughout the con and reminded members of our policies when necessary (in addition to members reminding each other), but WisCon had no power to do that in spaces not exclusive to WisCon, or in private spaces. This is a safety consideration that every in-person event, and every in-person event attendee, will have to negotiate for themselves.

Finally, one last wrench in the works: The federal mask mandate for air travel was repealed very shortly before WisCon 2022. This changed many people’s personal safety calculus on travel, and we informally heard from some registered members that they were not attending in person, as well as receiving some last-minute requests to change from an in-person membership to the cheaper online membership (in-person memberships include all online membership access). This made it hard to estimate our total in-person or online attendance in the end. However, this also caused a last-minute wave of cancellations or no-shows for reservations at the hotel. This can unfortunately result in financial hardship, as the rooms within the block we reserve for WisCon every year come at a specifically negotiated lower rate. Because of these specific terms, rooms in our reduced-rate block have a more stringent 14-day cancellation policy rather than the 24-hour cancellation policy on general reservations. This caused some members who planned to join us in person, but ultimately could not, to still be charged for the first night of their planned stay. The best we can do, and what we recommend for other events, is to very clearly communicate the specific policies and timelines for their event’s hotel(s) so attendees and members can make informed choices.

Ultimately, we wish there had been zero cases, that no one arrived sick, got sick during travel, or got sick while in Madison for WisCon. But we think everyone who works to put on WisCon — which specifically includes all our members, who *ARE* the people who make everything from panels to chairing possible — did an amazing job doing our best to keep each other safe.

Thank you all for your hard work, your communication, and your care.

COVID Safety Post-Con

Thanks to everyone, online and in person, for your participation in WisCon this year!

For our in-person attendees: Please keep testing regularly until 2 weeks after the con, to the extent you are able! If you test positive, please let us know using the COVID reporting form. The link to that form is available in our emails sent out to registered members and on our official Discord.

As part of our COVID-19 safety policies at WisCon 45 in 2022, we will send out email updates to registered in-person members each day we learn of at least one new case, just as we did each day during the con. We plan to do this for two weeks after the con, then post a final update and summary publicly on wiscon.net.

Thanks for your help in continuing to keep our members safe!

Thursday Evening Reading with Sheree Renée Thomas

Our traditional Thursday evening (5/26) Guest of Honor reading has moved this year to the Madison Public Library Central branch (201 W Mifflin St), a 0.2 mi (~5 min) walk from the Concourse! Here’s a Google Map with walking directions.

Doors will be open at 5:30, and the event starts at 6pm Central. Our Guest of Honor Sheree Renée Thomas will be reading this year.

Afterwards, she’ll be signing books. No book? No problem! Room of One’s Own will have a table at the event with Ms. Thomas’s books available for purchase. If you’re in town Thursday night, please come out and join us!

If you need to take a taxi to or from the venue and could use some financial assistance, taxi vouchers for Union Cab are available at the Concourse front desk. Be aware that wait time may be up to an hour due to staffing shortages.

Since the reading happens before WisCon and is free and open to the public, we cannot guarantee that attendees will be vaccinated and/or masked.

COVID-19 Vaccine Policy Fix

We sincerely apologize to the members of the WisCon community! We accidentally misinterpreted CDC guidance regarding how long it takes to be “up-to-date” after a booster (according to the CDC, you are up-to-date immediately after receiving a booster). This means that for people ages 12 and over, if you received your primary series more than 6 months before the con, as long as you have received at least one booster shot prior to picking up your con badge, you are up-to-date. It’s not too late to get boosted and attend WisCon!

Here is the fixed vaccination policy language, in full:

Everyone attending the convention—including members, vendors, and any contractors—must be up to date on their COVID vaccines when they arrive at Registration to pick up their con badge. Up to date means a person has received all recommended doses in their primary series of COVID-19 vaccine; and for individuals 12 and older, one booster dose if their primary series was completed more than six months before the con. (See “Stay Up to Date with Your COVID-19 vaccines.”)

At Registration, we will be checking vaccination cards to verify that EITHER:

  • a primary series was completed on or after November 27, 2021 and before May 12, 2022  (This means, your primary series happened less than 6 months before the con. In which case, your last shot needed to happen at least 2 weeks before the con for you to be up to date.) OR
  • a primary series was completed before November 27, 2021 AND a booster shot was administered at any time afterward. (This means, your primary series happened more than 6 months before the con. In that case, you need to be boosted, but you are up to date as of whenever you got the booster.)

Given that as of 4/13/2022 the CDC has not approved vaccines for children under 5, children under 5 will not be allowed to attend WisCon 2022. Hopefully we will see more smols next con!

Since boosters for children ages 5-11 are not yet recommended by the CDC, we are not requiring them for children ages 5-11 to attend WisCon.

For those coming to WisCon from other countries: we will accept proof that you have received any vaccine recognized by the WHO. More information on WHO recognition of COVID vaccines can be found on their website.

New Lower Price for Online Memberships

WisCon is just under two weeks away! We can’t wait to see you there, whether in-person or online. If you’ve been waffling about whether to register to attend online, we’re excited to announce a new lower price of $25 for online memberships.

When we started planning for this year, we had reason to be nervous about WisCon’s finances. That led to the #SaveWisCon campaign—but it also led us to set a pretty conservative price ($40) for our Online Memberships, while also focusing on making sure that our online programming this year would be worth that price.

In the months since #SaveWisCon started, we’ve had an outpouring of support from our community. Thank you to everyone who’s contributed, whether by volunteering, donating, or signal boosting our messages! And thank you to everyone who’s already registered—right now we have about 550 people registered, across in-person and online.

We’ll have a bigger update about #SaveWisCon soon, but already we can be a bit more certain about our financial stability. Because of that, we’ve been able to revisit our pricing for the online convention, and we’ve decided to lower the cost of Online Membership to $25. You can still purchase a membership for $40 if you prefer to do so—or simply put the extra money towards a donation, in which case you will receive a tax receipt.

For everyone who already registered at the higher price, we are offering a rebate for the difference in cost. Please fill out this Google Form if you would like that rebate, and we’ll put it in motion for you.

To be clear, all online memberships give exactly the same access to the online convention (and in-person memberships provide access to both in-person and online programming). And we’re really excited about the online programming we’re offering this year, which includes:

  • Nearly 30 all-online panels (held via Zoom), including some of the most popular panels from the panel interest survey
  • Livestreams of readings and speeches by Guest of Honor Sheree Renée Thomas
  • Livestream of the Otherwise Auction
  • Online Readings, Academic sessions, and Workshops
  • Online Parties, including a livestream of the Vid Party
  • The return of the WisCon Discord server
We think we’ve succeeded this year in creating a truly WisCon experience in the online schedule: ensuring that you’ll want to be in two different places at the same time.

The program is visible at https://program.wiscon.net/PublicSchedule.php (scroll to the right for all-online panels in our Ansible rooms, the grid has gotten very wide!). To register for either an in-person or online membership, visit https://reg.wiscon.net/, from now until the end of the convention weekend.

Dessert Salon 2022

There will be a Dessert Salon in 2022! However, things will run differently — most importantly, the desserts will be distributed in takeout containers after the speeches. Also, as in 2019, we are trying to limit the amount of line-standing for everyone.

  • Starting at 5:30 on Sunday, attendees with Dessert Salon tickets can pick up a numbered ticket from Registration. Cash only ticket sales 6:30-8pm.
  • Seating for the speeches will begin at approximately 7:30, and Dessert Salon ticket holders will get priority seating. Ticket holders will be called by line number.
  • Speeches will begin at approximately 8:00pm and will be live streamed.
  • At the conclusion of the speeches, those without Dessert Salon tickets will depart. Dessert Salon ticket holders will then be called by number in groups of 15 to choose their desserts, to reduce crowding at the dessert tables.
  • There will be a smaller choice of desserts than in previous years, but gluten free, vegan, and nut-free desserts will still be available, it’s still two desserts per person, and the desserts will still be delicious. (There will be nine choices.)
  • There are a limited number of tickets still available. If you would like to attend, please add your Dessert Salon tickets to your registration soon! The Dessert Salon is an important fundraiser for WisCon and we hope to sell out.

To buy tickets to the Dessert Salon, go to the Registration Page and add tickets (as many as you’d like) to your cart, then check out.

 

Gaming at WisCon

Are you interested in running a game at WisCon either in person or online? Let us know at gaming@wiscon.net or fill out this form to help us get you set up! If you’re not sure about your schedule yet, no worries! Gaming this year will be organized similarly to Spontaneous Programming, and we’ll have sign-ups during the con at the Gathering (for in person games) or on the WisCon Discord (for online games).

Want to take part in the Gathering?

We’re still on the lookout for masked activities for this year’s Friday afternoon Gathering!

Previous years’ activities have included tarot readings, a galley sale, and all kinds of crafts.

If you’d like to host an activity table (including supplying whatever materials you’ll need), email gathering@wiscon.net or fill out the form at http://wiscon.net/events/the-gathering/ and let us know your idea and any space and setup requirements.

Sign Up for Our Intro to Vidding Workshop

Do you love the WisCon Vid Party? Are you interested in learning how to make your own vids? Sign up for our Intro to Vidding workshop on Friday, 9 am to noon, with eruthros. There will be eight spots open for the workshop, and you will need to bring your own laptop that is capable of installing recommended software to be used during the session. (You will be sent the technical details via email.)

To reserve your spot for the session, send an email to workshop@wiscon.net. Seats are available on a first come, first served basis; anyone who signs up after the available slots are filled will be added to a waitlist.

Volunteer during WisCon!

WisCon runs on volunteers! Not only are our organizing committee and programming entirely volunteer-based, every department is staffed by volunteers during the convention itself. From helping to make online programming possible as a Production Assistant, to ensuring coffee is fresh in the Con Suite, to helping with the Art Show, you can be part of what makes WisCon possible.

Whether this is your first WisCon or you’ve been attending for years, volunteering during the convention is a great way to get a sense of how things work behind the scenes, and to meet new people. Volunteering during the convention involves signing up for shifts (usually 1-3 hours) with specific departments.

For descriptions of volunteer roles in specific departments, visit wiscon.net/volunteers.

If you are interested in volunteering during WisCon this year, fill out this Google form, and departments will be in touch once their volunteer schedule goes live.Update: Shifts for volunteering during WisCon are now available at program.wiscon.net! To sign up for shifts, log in at program.wiscon.net, select the “Volunteer” tab, and click “Add shifts” on the right. This will bring up a list of all Volunteer shifts, organized by time; you can filter available shifts by role or by day. 

We are particularly recruiting people willing to serve as Production Assistants or Discord Moderators for the virtual con! If we fully staff our virtual panels, we can consider streaming in-person panels to online members. If you are comfortable holding a Zoom call, you have the technical skills to be a Production Assistant!

All volunteers are eligible for a volunteer gift (usually a small item such as a pin or waterbottle with the WisCon logo); gifts will be mailed to any remote volunteers. In the past we have had a rebate program for volunteers (refunding a portion of the cost of membership); this program is currently under review and may not be offered for 2022.

Party applications open & party rules update

TLDR: Party applications are now open until Saturday, 4/30, at 11:59pm US Central time — but in order to reduce the amount of unmasking that happens during parties, we’re only permitting non-alcoholic beverages to be served at parties: no food, no booze.

As fun as room parties at conventions can be, what’s even more fun is an open party available to everyone.  Starting at 9pm Friday-Sunday, WisCon offers parties hosted by WisCon members and open to every member of the convention.  In past years, parties have included karaoke, a haiku-and-earring party, and piñata-smashing.

Party spaces must be requested in advance. Unfortunately, we are unable to entertain late party requests due to scheduling requirements.

Party reservations are prioritized due to a number of factors.  We are particularly enthusiastic about parties with a history at WisCon as well as parties that are promoting other cons, SF groups, book & author promotional parties, and other events. Please note that there are a limited number of party room reservation slots available.

We’re counting on your creativity to host awesome parties even without the appeal of food.  Maybe your party have will awesome music, fun games, or cool craft activities! How about a mocktail bar?

To submit your party request, please email parties@wiscon.net. Include in your request:

  • Your name, email address, and a phone number where we would be able to reach you
  • The names and email addresses of all other party hosts
  • Name or title of your party
  • Brief description of your party (just a sentence is fine)
  • Scheduling preferences, as party schedules impact other programming, and it may not be possible to change dates once initial schedules are set.
  • Any special equipment or room layout needs you have

If you’re considering requesting party space, please read the complete list of WisCon Party Rules. Questions? You can reach us at parties@wiscon.net.

#SaveWisCon Update

We are making AMAZING progress on our work to #SaveWisCon, thanks to your help!

  • We have now raised just over $32,000 in donations of which $30,000 will be matched, for a total of $62,000 raised to support WisCon! This is absolutely incredible, and we are so grateful for everyone who contributed and helped spread the word.
  • 70 people have completed our Volunteer Interest Form to help out with pre-con volunteering. Thank you all!
  • We’ve gained 252 new email newsletter subscribers since November, which is helping us make sure everyone gets the latest con news and updates. Not getting the newsletter? You can sign up here.
  • We have a total of 418 registrations (in-person and online). Our goal is 1,000! Please register and tell your friends about WisCon, too.
PLUS we are receiving a total of $5,500 in grants from:

We deeply appreciate their support and encourage everyone to learn more about these excellent organizations.

Thanks to your donations and these grants, we’re at roughly $67,000 in total funds raised!

Is this the end of #SaveWisCon fundraising? Are we just done now, forever?

Well…probably not, y’all, for a couple of reasons:

  • It is basically impossible that we can book enough rooms to meet our hotel contract, so we are going to owe the Concourse a lot of money. This is just how things are because of the pandemic:  we want people who feel comfortable to attend WisCon in person to attend, but we recognize that in-person events are a significant risk for many people.
  • My initial $70k-ish fundraising goal assumed that we would sell 500 online memberships (half of what WisCONline sold in 2020). We’re currently at a small fraction of that, and I don’t know how likely it is we’ll be able to get close to 500. So that’s revenue we were hoping to have that we may not have.
That said: This is a HUGE step towards making sure WisCon continues happening in the future!