San Diego Convention Center returns for first time since start of COVID-19 pandemic

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SAN DIEGO — Sunday was a big day for San Diego as events returned to the San Diego Convention Center for the first time since March 2020 thanks to high vaccination rates in California. 

“That benefits us not just for public health, but for our region’s economy by positioning us to welcome events back like this one,” said Maren Dougherty, spokesperson for the San Diego Convention Center.

More than 150 events were canceled, postponed or went online during the pandemic. The convention center believes that was more than a $2 billion loss for the city. 

SPIE Optics and Photonics was the first event to kick off the big return on Sunday — it’s one of 30 events scheduled from August to December. 

SPIE CEO Kent Rochford said in years past, an average of 4,000 people typically attend. This year, there’s about 1,400 people registered currently before the exposition opens on Tuesday.

He said about half of the presenters are from overseas and unable to attend because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, which is a similar story for students abroad who would typically attend. 

“It’s largely a domestic meeting in-person, and we were actually able to get a pretty good domestic draw,” Rochford said.

Before the rerun of events on Sunday, the convention center served as an emergency homeless shelter and safe area for unaccompanied minors seeking asylum for more than 15 months.  

“Because of that, we feel very well positioned to bring back events safely and responsibly,” Dougherty said.

Convention center and SPIE staff are masking up indoors. Fully vaccinated attendees are asked to mask up as well, but not required.  

Until Oct. 1, anyone attending an indoor event of more than 5,000 people will need to be fully vaccinated or have proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours. 

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