Statement from Daniel Vidaña, President of Venture Café New England
At Venture Café New England, our mission is at the heart of all of our decisions. Our mission is to educate and connect anyone with an idea to the resources and relationships they need in order to successfully launch and grow businesses. Whether you’ve attended a program once or hundreds of times, worked out of the Public Lounge, hosted an event in one of our spaces, or supported us as a community partner, you have helped us achieve this mission. We have missed welcoming you into our spaces during these unprecedented times and are looking forward to seeing you all in person again.
While some aspects of life have been put on pause, our programming teams have been working at high speed. Thank you to those who have joined us and supported us as we moved our programming fully virtual. Our team innovated quickly in mid-March starting with our Thursday Gatherings and continued to provide the same educational workshops, panel discussions, pitch nights and networking opportunities. The pivot to virtual programming allowed us to further our mission in ways we were not expecting. With the barriers of travel, location, and time removed, we welcomed guests from near and far and saw an increase in the number of participants. Through the recording of sessions, we were able to share the information with those who couldn’t make it to the live presentations. Virtual programming has opened the door to new opportunities and we believe hybrid events, with a mix of in-person and virtual aspects, are here to stay and we plan to lead the way.
With the release of our state and local governments’ phased reopening plans, we are optimistic about the “new normal”. The health and safety of our employees and guests is a top focus. We have and will continue to take precautions to operate safe, clean and welcoming spaces for all, in conjunction with our partners at CIC. The VCNE reopening and safety plan was developed to share the processes and considerations of our team as we prepare to reopen our respective spaces to the public. Given the constantly changing health environment of our state and country, this plan may evolve to comply with the latest guidelines and we will share any updates with you as they become available.
Our plan is the result of gathering best practices from respected community partners, such as CIC, the GBCVB, Briar Events, and the PWCVB and in conjunction with resources provided by the City of Boston and Providence, and the states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. With our event spaces on the smaller side, we will lead the reopening charge and want to ensure that reopening does not mean regressing. We look forward to doing what we love and know the decision of when and how to reopen must be driven by a realistic assessment of our ability to resume operations safely. We see hybrid events as the future and understand the need to adapt to meet new needs. We are outfitting and adjusting our spaces to best accommodate. Through our virtual programming, we have gained valuable experience with the variety of resources available to successfully incorporate digital tools into an event. Our flexible spaces have enabled us to exceed our clients’ event and meeting needs in the past and we will continue to deliver under the new circumstances.
We look forward to the day we can welcome you back to our spaces for a Thursday Gathering, Pitch Night, Café Night, or private event. Until then, we are eager to connect with you virtually and wish you all optimism and health.
Daniel Enriquéz Vidaña
How We Can Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Within Our Spaces
In order to determine how to best prevent the spread of COVID-19 within our spaces, we reviewed information provided in numerous published studies and by public health officials on how COVID-19 is spread. We expect to continue to learn more about this virus and will update our plan accordingly with new information.
To see how COVID-19 is spread within an office setting, we can turn to a CDC-published study about an outbreak in a Korean office building. Our CIC partner summarized the study’s key findings with: “(a) the virus did not meaningfully appear to spread throughout the building through the HVAC systems, (b) there appears to have been little spread in common areas of the building (elevators and lobbies and such), (c) nearly everyone who contracted it sat immediately next to each other in the same room for a prolonged period of time.” This study brings to light that the virus appears to spread mainly from direct person-to-person contact within a short distance for a prolonged period of time. In a guidance document, the CDC defines a short distance for close contact to within about six feet.
The CDC acknowledges the virus may be spread in other ways: “It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads”. While the virus does appear to last on surfaces, as shown in this study, transmission through touch is a low risk and it is proven that the virus “is also susceptible to standard disinfection methods”. The CDC states that transmission “to persons from surfaces contaminated with the virus has not been documented. Transmission of coronavirus occurs much more commonly through respiratory droplets than through objects and surfaces, like doorknobs, countertops, keyboards, toys, etc.”
In a May 18, 2020 guidance document for infection prevention and control, the CDC summarizes the mode of transmission:
“Current data suggest person-to-person transmission most commonly happens during close exposure to a person infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, primarily via respiratory droplets produced when the infected person speaks, coughs, or sneezes. Droplets can land in the mouths, noses, or eyes of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs of those within close proximity. Transmission also might occur through contact with contaminated surfaces followed by self-delivery to the eyes, nose, or mouth.”
With regard to airborne transmission, the CDC describes airborne transmission over long distances unlikely. In this case in a Guangzhou restaurant, the virus did appear to travel over three feet due to continuous strong air flow blowing past individuals. The study highlights the need to increase the physical distance between people to the recommended six feet.
Additionally, in the Guangzhou restaurant case, the index patient was asymptomatic while eating in the restaurant. Other cases of pre-symptomatic transmission have been reported. When looking at outbreaks in nursing homes, it was reinforced that “residents with COVID-19 frequently do not report typical symptoms such as fever or respiratory symptoms; some may not report any symptoms. Unrecognized asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic infections likely contribute to transmission in these and other healthcare settings.”
In addition to physical distancing, more studies are showing that one of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of COVID-19 via respiratory water droplets from both symptomatic and asymptomatic people involves wearing a cloth face covering or mask over the mouth and nose to contain these respiratory droplets. The difficulty posed with being asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic is that the person often does not know they are infected. With the face covering, asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people are less likely to spread the virus unknowingly.
Venture Café New England is focused on providing a safe, clean, welcoming space for all. Following CDC and governmental guidelines, we will take steps to mitigate the various modes of virus transmission. If new studies arise that change this information, we will adjust our response.
Site Specific Action Plans
Roxbury Innovation Center is located within the Bolling Building. In addition to the VCNE Site Reopening + COVID-19 Safety Plan, guidelines provided by the Bolling Building will be followed. More information will be provided as it becomes available.
Our Measures to Keep Our Spaces Safe
As we move to reopen our physical spaces, the health and safety of our employees and guests is our number one priority. In addition to a phased reopening in line with governmental guidelines, Venture Café New England will take the following health and safety measures.
Physical Distancing + Safety
In accordance with the safety standards set by state and local governments, all individuals not from the same household need to maintain at least 6 feet separation and all individuals are required to wear a face covering.
District Hall Boston will have a one way flow through the building to avoid congestion by entry ways. The entrance of the building will be through the doors on Northern Ave and the doors leading to Seaport Blvd will be for exit only. If a one way flow is not possible through the building, as with some of our other locations, total room capacities will be limited to ensure all individuals are able to maintain 6 feet separation. All guests will be required to wear a face covering to enter the space. Signage will be posted at the entrance of our spaces to remind guests to maintain the safe 6-foot physical distance and that face coverings are required to enter the space.
In the Lounge free public workspace, tables will be spread out and seating will be limited to ensure 6 feet or more between individuals.
Our events team has created new floor plans for the rooms to accommodate a 6 feet physical distance between guests. Seating will be limited and tables will be spaced apart. Our team is happy to work with you on an event by event basis to ensure proper distancing guidelines are followed. When possible, it is recommended that guests leave their room door open to improve ventilation. Gatherings will be limited to the current capacity allowed by the local government’s reopening plan.
Our team will continue to work from home when they are able to do so. The work schedules will be staggered so no more than two employees will be onsite at one time, unless otherwise required. All employees will wear a face covering while working, unless they are able to easily and safety maintain 6 feet distance from guests. VCNE will procure and distribute face masks to any employee who is in need. Additional face masks will be available on hand in case of damage or loss.
Health + Hygiene Protocols
We can all do our part to keep eachother safe by following the recommended hygiene protocols. Anyone feeling ill is asked to stay home. Employee and guest hygiene recommendations will be visibly posted throughout our spaces.
Symptom self check
We ask all guests to complete our online self-check form before coming into one of our spaces. The self check responses are not stored as this symptom self checking tool is to enable individuals to become more aware of their own daily health status. We ask all members of our community to be honest and understand that if they are not feeling well, it is best if they stay home.
Handwashing + hand sanitizer
Handwashing facilities with soap and running water are available onsite. Guests and employees are encouraged to wash their hands as frequent as needed and whenever they use the restroom. In addition, alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol are available in all the rooms and throughout the space. Guests and employees are asked to utilize hand sanitizer after coming in contact with high touch areas, such as door handles. Staff and maintenance personnel will monitor the supply of soap and hand sanitizer to refill as often as needed.
Foot pulls have been installed inside the restrooms to avoid having to pull the door open with a hand. Employees will be given brass keychains in order to open doors, flip switches, pull levers and push buttons in an effort to avoid an additional set of hands on high touch areas. A majority of our spaces are outfitted with motion sensor lights that automatically turn on and off. All of our programming and event rentals are already set up online so there is no need to exchange currency or contracts in person.
In addition to hand washing and use of hand sanitizer, we ask our guests to:
- Avoid touching your face
- Sneeze or cough into a tissue or your elbow
- Nod or wave instead of shaking hands
Cleaning + Disinfecting
We have and will continue to provide a clean environment for our guests. The frequency of cleaning and disinfecting has been increased in all public spaces with an emphasis on frequent contact surfaces.
Our regularly scheduled overnight cleanings of the full space will continue. We will work closely with our facility maintenance team to ensure proper sanitizing and disinfecting solutions are used. Throughout the day, our staff and maintenance personnel will additionally clean high touch surfaces including but not limited to door handles, doors, handrails, tables, and chairs. A daily cleaning log will detail the date, time, and scope of cleaning.
The Lounge public workspace sees a variety of guests throughout the day. In an effort to lessen contact, we ask Lounge users to remain at the same table throughout their visit. Upon request in our team office, staff can wipe down and clean tables and chairs before and after a guest utilizes the space. Throughout the day, our staff and maintenance personnel will observe and disinfect empty tables and chairs.
Meeting + event clients will be asked to remove or dispose of any items they brought into the space at the conclusion of their room rental, including personal belongings and trash. Rooms should be left the same way they are found. All spaces will be cleaned by staff before and after a meeting or event. This ensures a double cleaning between bookings as the space would be cleaned after the first event and again before the second client arrives.
Staffing + Operations
To ensure the safety of our guests, we have to first ensure the safety of our employees. Our team will continue to work from home when possible and will limit the number of employees in the office each day. If an employee feels ill, shows any symptoms, or learns that they have been exposed to a positive case of COVID-19, they will be required to stay home and have the option to continue working from home.
Each VCNE location will meet with their team members to review this safety and reopening plan. All team members will understand their role in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to evaluate our spaces to ensure compliance with the guidelines. All team members will be trained on how to conduct a symptom self-check at home before coming into work for the day.
We will all wear face coverings while at work and will follow the hygiene recommendations. To allow for contact tracing within our spaces, we will set up a check-in table at our main entrance. Guests will be asked to quickly sign in so we are able to create a log of everyone who comes in contact with the site, including temporary visitors.
Signage will be posted at the entrance of our space and throughout the building reminding guests and employees of our new policies. The signage will reinforce the requirement to wear a face covering, to remain 6 feet physical distance from others, to stay home if you feel ill, and the recommended hygiene practices. Additional signage will be used to display new room capacities based on physical distancing and to help guest flow throughout the spaces to avoid congestion.
If we are notified of a positive case within our space, whether from an employee or a guest, we will notify the local Board/Department of Health. We will work with them on contact tracing and all employees will be advised to isolate and self-quarantine. One member of the team will continue to work with the Board/Department of Health on any follow-up. If requested, other employees will be tested. Our space would close immediately and a deep cleaning and disinfecting of all areas would be scheduled. The space would reopen and our staff would return to work when it was safe to do so.