The International WordPress Community and WordCamps Amid COVID-19

With the rising numbers of people who have contracted COVID-19, a disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2), it is time for the WordPress community to begin evaluating what the remainder of 2020 may look like. It is not a time for panic. However, some serious discussions will need to happen and decisions made on an ongoing basis.

Last month, WordCamp Asia made the tough decision to cancel its inaugural event in Bangkok, Thailand. Given the spread of the coronavirus strain in the East Asian region and many unknowns at that point, it was a safe decision to protect our international community.

Wordfence spearheaded the effort to aid people with financial losses due to WordCamp Asia’s late cancellation. The company covered $10,000 of lost funds for attendees. Yoast and GoDaddy are equally splitting costs beyond the initial $10,000 through the same WordCamp Asia Cancellation Fund. To date, 117 applications have been verified and approved for a total of $19,860. There are still eight pending applications for an additional $1,409.

Mark Maunder, CEO of Defiant (the company behind Wordfence), seemed proud of how the community came together to make this happen. He said that people acted with integrity during the process and many often made sure to only ask for smaller amounts of money to cover their lost expenses.

Yesterday, Maunder authored a detailed post titled COVID-19 and WordPress Community Engagement in 2020. In it, he announced that his team would not be traveling globally to WordCamps until COVID-19 has run its course. He also urges organizers to cancel WordCamp Europe this summer, to cancel WordCamps globally for the time being, and for WordCamp US to be put on hold. Instead, the community can focus on doing remote events and providing an example to the world in how we can organize and collaborate online. By taking a proactive approach and dealing with the issue sooner rather than later, it can save organizers headaches down the road and save attendees money by canceling early.

“It is my experience that people react to bad situations too slowly,” wrote Maunder. “Whether it is a choking victim, a storm or a national emergency, there is the awkward pause that happens as life-as-usual transforms into a realization of reality requiring fast action. Often, that reality only sets in after the event.”

Maunder said he desired to take a data-driven approach to determine whether camps and conferences should cancel. It is not about raising panic or unnecessary alarm. He wants people to make sure they think about how we deal with this as a community and not in terms of our potential health risks as individuals. A healthy 30-year-old is at low risk of mortality, for example. However, that same healthy adult can transfer the virus to the elderly and immune-compromised people who are at higher risks. Bringing together large groups who are traveling internationally may help spread the virus because it de-localizes the problem. This is particularly true for larger WordCamps that have a global list of attendees.

Current WordCamp Updates and Cancellations

WordCamp Europe organizers announced earlier today that the annual event will continue as planned. The conference will take place on June 4-6 in Porto, Portugal. The team said they were in contact with the national health authority, DGS, in Portugal. They are monitoring the situation. Currently, there is at least one confirmed case of COVID-19 in Portugal, but the government has not shut down its borders. Those planning to attend WordCamp Europe should keep an eye on the camp’s Coronavirus Updates page. Plans could change.

Smaller, more regional WordCamps will want to keep a careful eye on what is going on locally. This means following local news sources and staying informed by local government officials.

WordCamp Geneva organizers have postponed their event, which was set for March 21. At the moment, they are planning to set it back about six months, pending an improvement in the COVID-19 situation. Otherwise, they will make the decision to cancel the event completely for the year. The announcement came after the Swiss government banned large-scale events with over 1,000 people. The organizers worried that such a ban would eventually extend to smaller events.

The WordCamp Retreat, held annually in Soltau, Germany, has also been canceled for 2020. The event was scheduled to run from April 30 through May 3. The organizers plan to revive the retreat in May 2021. Organizers said because of the unusual format in comparison to a normal WordCamp, the costs of waiting until later before deciding to cancel would have been financially irresponsible. The format of the retreat has higher costs associated with how it is run. February 29 was the last day to make a decision to cancel while breaking even financially.

Staying Informed

Aside from WordCamps, agencies and other companies with a physical location should prepare for having their employees do their work remotely. This means setting up channels for communication, if they are already not in place, for continuing their work efficiently. While we should all hope for the best outcome, preparedness is key for when things go awry.

The most important thing for the global WordPress community to do right now is to continue communicating and sharing data from official sources. Organizers, employers, and travelers will sometimes have to make tough calls. Safety is always more important than whether we can network in person.

The following are links to resources from the World Health Organization. Everyone should also keep track of national, state, and other local resources.

Update: Josepha Haden posted an official announcement with advice on WordCamp Travel and COVID-19 on March 4.