The first few hours of the 2022 Online News Association conference Wednesday can be described in two words: Long lines.
From the moment registration opened at 8 a.m., lines were filled with attendees excited to be at the first in-person conference since 2019. This year’s conference is being held at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites in Los Angeles.
Before journalists could go to the registration desks, they had to go through a separate line for a required COVID-19 screening process, operated by the 911 COVID Testing service.
Attendees were required to provide an identification card, COVID-19 vaccination card and answer a questionnaire to identify any COVID symptoms.
Anyone who does not pass the questionnaire or have a vaccination card is required to take a rapid antigen test, according to Nelson Prieto, manager of the Los Angeles 911 COVID Testing team.
Attendees without a vaccination card are required to test each day of the conference. However, the testing is open to anyone who attends the conference.
Caren Jao, the arts and culture editor for KCET in L.A., supported the health screening along with the mask requirement.
“I appreciate just the additional steps that people are taking. While a lot of things are definitely better, we are still definitely not over the pandemic yet. So, it is those additional steps, just precautions are very much appreciated,” Jao said.
Due to privacy concerns, Prieto said he could not share how many people said they have COVID symptoms or have gotten tested so far.
With about approximately 1,500 people registered to attend, Prieto said the COVID-19 screening was the best option for the conference.
“We have a large amount of people coming through and people from all over the world,” Prieto said. “It’s a close contact event and so screening for COVID would be the best decision.”
Attendees were also required to show vaccination cards when registering to attend the conference.
The COVID screening process has varied across different journalism conferences this year. This August, the National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists hosted a joint convention in Las Vegas.
Like ONA’s conference, attendees were required to submit their COVID-19 vaccination cards in order to register for the conference.
However, NABJ and NAHJ also required attendees to download CLEAR, a full-access app that provides a health pass and digital vaccination card that was scanned upon registration at the convention.
But ONA required guests to show the vaccination card on site on top of the online submission with registration.
Aaricka Washington, associate editor at KPCC and LAist, attended NABJ in addition to ONA and recalled the differences between the COVID screenings.
“With NABJ, they had the Clear app. So we had to put everything in that. You had to show a vaccination with this. You had to show your vaccination in person. So just two different processes. Neither one took that much time. Both processes are there to protect us,” Washington said.
Virginia Alves, senior distribution editor at Insider, said the screening process was vastly different from the International Symposium on Online Journalism conference she attended at the University of Texas, Austin in April. Although the conference was a lot smaller than ONA with about 400 people, Alves said there were very few COVID restrictions enforced.
“We didn’t actually have any, like COVID strict or COVID protocols like this,” Alves said. “Masks were recommended. I would say not everyone really wore them. So I feel really great about everyone wearing a mask here.”
Despite the lengthy lines, many people appreciated the COVID screenings and efforts to keep everyone safe.
On the other hand, Josh McGee, a reporter at MindSite News, was skeptical of how truthful people will be when answering the COVID symptoms questions.
“People can answer the questions however they want to answer,” McGee said, “Have you been tested in the last 10 days, like if someone spent money to go to the conference…and pay for their hotel? Like they could get it refunded or something, but who’s going to? You don’t know if people are telling the truth.”
The COVID-19 screening is required each day of the conference in order to attend any events.