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Today we announce that APTA and our 18 sections and academies will not hold an in-person Combined Sections Meeting, Feb. 24-27, 2021, in Orlando, Florida. We will instead host a virtual event over several weeks likely starting in February 2021.  

This decision is based on our physical therapy community’s role and responsibility as health care providers and our association’s mission to improve the health of society.

Simply put, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, there is no evidence to suggest that a mass gathering like CSM will be safe in February 2021. As a health care association, we cannot risk the health of our attendees or the people they serve.

Additional Information

Coming off a record 18,000 participants at CSM 2020 in Denver earlier this year, we have been forecasting a potential attendance of 20,000 in Orlando for CSM 2021. That would have been the largest gathering of our physical therapy community in our 100-year history — a fitting milestone as we celebrate our centennial year.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic renders that vision impossible.

On July 23, the Department of Health and Human Services extended the national public health emergency related to COVID-19 for another 90 days. Scientific predictions suggest that “we must be prepared for at least another 18 to 24 months of significant COVID-19 activity” and that “prolonged or intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022.” A vaccine is still in development and “may not become widely available until [2021].”

In considering multiple alternatives, one option we explored was reducing capacity to 25% to provide the recommended 6 feet of physical distancing in session and meeting rooms. Unfortunately, even that approach would result in 4,500-5,000 people sharing an enclosed space for several days, having traveled from throughout the country to be there.

In its guidance on community mitigation efforts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that “the more a person interacts with different people, and the longer and closer the interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.” The CDC also identifies “large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area” as the “highest risk.”

Since the start of this heath emergency, the people who would attend CSM — physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and physical therapy students — have provided in-person care as essential health care workers. But meetings like CSM are not among the 16 critical infrastructure sectors that have been asked to continue business during the pandemic.

Our decision to cancel the in-person event is made in the interest of the health of our attendees and the people they care for — including patients and clients as well as their own families.

CDC quarantine guidance encourages anyone who has close contact with a person with COVID-19 to stay home for 14 days. Because COVID-19 is “highly transmissible and can be spread by people who do not know they have the disease,” health care professionals who would have attended CSM 2021 in Orlando could have been compelled by professional responsibility or the guidelines of their employer to quarantine for 14 days after the conference, in turn disrupting health care delivery in our country.

The first CSM was held in 1976. CSM 2021 will be the first to be held virtually. We are only in the early stages of planning for this online version, but already we know that CSM 2021 will provide outstanding educational content and research posters — programmed as always by our 18 sections and academies — with chances to engage with relevant vendors and each other.

Over the years, CSM has become the definitive annual gathering for our profession. Our intention is that it remains so in 2021. In fact, by holding the event virtually we expect to generate participation from first-time attendees who can take advantage of the more inclusive format, and we hope that leads potential members to join our APTA community. We plan to use this as an opportunity to innovate and enhance the CSM experience for the future.

Our profession is one of many to be disrupted by the pandemic. In challenging times like this, community is critical. But if the past few months have taught us anything, it’s that we don’t need to be in the same physical location to connect, learn, and grow.

We will release more details about CSM 2021 in September and look forward to your participation!

Answers to Questions

If you made hotel reservations for CSM through MCI, APTA’s official housing vendor, your reservation will be canceled for you without penalty. No action is needed.

If you are a CSM 2021 speaker, you will be contacted soon about participating in our virtual event.

If you submitted an abstract for CSM 2021, those are being reviewed now, and digital posters will be part of the CSM 2021 experience.

If you are a vendor who planned to participate in Orlando or would like to participate in our virtual event, please contact our CSM exhibits and sponsorship team.

If you have any additional questions, please contact APTA member services.

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