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RFC: Opening up (?) - To meet, how to meet or not to meet, that is the question.

On the Fluid Dynamics of Toilet Bowls

Who would have thought that we would live to see the day, when this would be a topic in our morning paper? Well, today is that day, and the New York Times probably started many a learned discussion around breakfast tables with an article that discussed the dangers of an aerosol hanging over a toilet bowl after flushing, potentially able to transmit SARS-CoV-2 to the next in line after an infected person. 

Interesting times indeed.

Many countries have started easing restrictions after strict lockdowns, some governments even actively cheerleading for citizens to go out, mingle and save the economy.  

To meet and how to meet, or not to meet, that is still the question, and we are trying to find an answer for our community in Berlin/Brandenburg. 

All Pandemic is Local

To paraphrase Tip O’Neil COVID-19 is a global plight, but the situation is different from country to country, city to city and sometimes even depending on where you are in a city. So what we suggest here, may be – very – different for you and is subject to (rapid) change.

Some Pros and Cons for meeting (again). 

The Pros

In our case, in the city of Berlin in the state of Brandenburg in Germany, case numbers have been rising slightly (Our Pandemic Traffic Light is currently “Yellow” with an R=1,49) since the first restrictions were lifted, but currently "only" 3,2% of ICU beds are needed for COVID-19 cases and it has been like this for weeks. While you may discuss if the danger is over or if this is just a temporary lull in infections and a second wave will come soon, our public health system so far has proven to be very robust in these interesting times. 

We are better prepared now. A massive testing program is in place and is being continuously expanded, and on June 16th the federal government released a “Corona App” that allows for real-time contact-tracing, which has won high praises even from the normally very critical “Chaos Computer Club (CCC)”. Millions have already downloaded and installed the app. Our neighbors are – on average and outside of social media – a pretty pragmatic and disciplined bunch, when it counts.

Brandenburg has decided and Berlin will follow suit on June 25th to remove a lot of the remaining restrictions, especially the contact restrictions for non-essential meetings – indoors and outdoors. It looks like it will be legal to meet again for our community.

While everything we know about this virus is about six months old, after a lot of research and discussion a consensus seems to be emerging, when and how you are most likely to catch this disease. Short version: Don’t stand so close to me (and preferably don’t sing that song without a mask on while you do).   

Companies have developed solutions for how to host people again that range from something like Hilton’s CleanStay program at the high end to smaller policies like this one from it-agile in Hamburg for in-person trainings that can serve as templates for our meetings.

And yet…

The Cons

Meeting in person will not be risk free until at least most of us have been vaccinated or have – possibly - acquired immunity through surviving an infection. And again: we can discuss till we are blue in the face about how big that risk is, but we are hosting friends, not case numbers in some statistic, so we have a lot less margin for error than, say, the public health system.

We really do not want to be the “pestilence police” to ensure that everybody sticks to the rules and only one black sheep among the flock who thinks that they do not need to care about the rules could be the beginning of a rather dismal evening.

Contact tracing. As useful as the app may be, we would have to register everyone with name, address and telephone number, just in case that somebody tests positive a couple of weeks later and some health authority wants to know who was at our event. As I said: nobody wants to be the “pestilence police” (s. above).

Last, but not least: The app may help, but we are not trained medical personnel. I – for one – would need a book to remind me what the difference between a fever and a raised temperature is and short of an idiot-proof rapid test that does not require poking everybody with a needle, there is simply no way that we are able to diagnose and triage guests at the door. And again: we are hosting friends.

And yet…


Ground Rules

All things considered and assuming the Senate of Berlin - in its infinite wisdom - decides that we can go out and play: I miss in-person meetings – a lot - and I have heard voices in our community that feel the same and we cannot stay at home forever, yadda, yadda so we would like to at least start thinking about how to meet (again). 

Looking at the guidance and templates that are available and subject to change, suggested ground rules would be:

  • Wear a mask
  • Keep a distance (at least 1,5 m) unless you live together in the same household.
  • Bring your own food and drink.
  • You are aware - and we will make you aware - that this is a potentially risky situation. 
  • If you are a member of the high-risk groups, stay at home. You should know by now, if you are a member
  • Everybody visibly sick will be send away, no discussion
  • We register everybody’s complete contact information
  • We provide and ask people to bring wipes and sanitizer to give shared commodities/devices some extra attention before and after usage. Wash your hands.

Lessons learned in lockdown

All the virtual events that we organized have left me with an epiphany: Slideshows in meetings are a waste of time. We can record any presentation and upload it to YouTube, we are slowly – but surely – accumulating a library of them.

Hybrid events. We stream and ask everybody to bring a tablet or phone to organize virtual meeting rooms with anyone who wants to join remotely.  And it helps to keep a distance. We can rebuild it. We have the technology... (literally). 

More interaction and conversation. Think: Open Mike Night, Poetry Slam, short presentation, whatever format, no projector or screen, instant feedback. Other ideas: “Silent Disco” People can choose to watch a presentation on their tablet via headphone and discuss in person.

Or just chat. 

Start: Creative Picnic in a Park

We suggest that we start with picnic – in one of our many public parks – where we can keep the distance in the fresh air - or whatever counts for that in these parts - and still have  a discussion, among ourselves and the world via mobile broadband – while keeping us and others as save as possible. 

Possible date: Some time in July, to give the "new normal" some time to prove its feasiblilty. 

Discuss. All opinions welcome

Join us for our virtual breakfast on June 25th, and/or start the discussion here.  RSVP here:




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