Do You Believe in Science? Take the HPC Covid Safety Pledge

By Ari Berman, Addison Snell, & Tom Tabor

September 28, 2022

ISC 2022 was back in person, and the celebration was on. Frontier had been named the first exascale supercomputer on the Top500 list, and workshops, poster sessions, paper presentations, receptions, and booth meetings were ongoing, when the first reports of Covid-19 started to roll in over Twitter.

By the time it was over, hundreds of HPC conference-goers had contracted the disease. Many were stranded in Germany; others flew home, unaware they were contagious. Most attendees had gone unmasked, even though masking had been recommended (but not required) by ISC organizers, as well as the German Health Ministry, the CDC, and the WHO.

We can do better. As a community, we can choose to protect each other, and ourselves. We can take a the HPC Covid Safety Pledge.

Organized in partnership between BioTeam, HPCwire, and Intersect360 Research, the HPC Covid Safety Pledge is a community campaign, encouraging individuals to opt in to simple, proven methods to help prevent the spread of Covid.

Specifically, those taking the HPC Covid Safety Pledge are asked to self-attest to the following:

  • I am up to date with vaccinations against Covid-19, including booster shots as appropriate, unless prevented by an underlying medical condition or religious observance.
  • Testing and self-monitoring. I will test myself for Covid-19 prior to attending a conference, and re-test daily throughout the conference. If I feel any symptoms of being sick, I will stay home or quarantine away from others.
  • I will wear a mask while meeting with others or when in a public area, removing my mask only when necessary, such as when actively eating or drinking, or giving a talk on stage.

These three steps, taken together, make gathering for a major event dramatically safer. The more people who opt in, the safer it gets. These choices aren’t just common sense. They conform to and honor the science of Covid, supported in many cases by HPC.

In June, HPCwire made this connection directly, saying “it is time we exceed the minimum requirements” and calling on our “community’s challenging responsibility” to act in ways that are consistent with HPC research and our own safety.

Safer by Choice

“Are vaccinations and masks required?” As our society explores how to gather again, the question has become a touchpoint for organizers and attendees alike.

The requirement question carries a tacit assumption: if required, most will comply (some grudgingly); if not, then masks will be few. For many, it puts the burden of deciding on someone else. It also lends itself to a false Boolean logic, that an event is “safe” or “not safe.” Can we choose to be safer, even when no one makes us?

For an HPC community, this should be a viable conversation. From its onset in early 2020, HPC has been at the center of Covid research. Our community proudly dedicated supercomputing resources to the fight and awarded prizes to groundbreaking research.

HPC simulations done at RIKEN on the Fugaku supercomputer, for example, have shown that masking is more effective when more people do it. That’s because masks are more effective at keeping droplets from spreading in the air than they are in preventing those droplets from being inhaled once aerosolized. In short, my mask helps protect you; your mask helps protect me.

The HPC Covid Safety Pledge represents what we ascribe to in our community. It follows the science and lets us each make that choice.

SC22: The Big Covid Test

On August 24, the SC22 Planning Committee rescinded the vaccination requirement for attendees at the upcoming conference in Dallas. Originally, “the SC22 attendance policy was for all in-person attendees to be vaccinated,” according to the blog post, but at a state level, “Texas forbids such requirements.”

Furthermore, the Coronavirus information page on the SC22 website asserts, “The health and safety of the SC family – participants and volunteers alike – are our first priority.” However, it goes on to say, “Masks – properly worn covering both nose and mouth – are strongly encouraged but, at this time, are not required.”

If Texas doesn’t allow a vaccine requirement, and masks are encouraged but not required, can SC22 be a “safe” event? The answer is, we can choose to make it a lot safer. For SC22 or any industry event, the more people who take the HPC Covid Safety Pledge, the safer it is for all of us.

Aren’t We Past This?

There’s a lot of information available about the end of Covid-19: “It’s now endemic, not a pandemic.” “People aren’t dying from it anymore.” “It’s no more dangerous than the flu.” Unfortunately, none of these statements is true. Maybe someday soon they will be.

And because it can be confusing, the HPC Covid Safety Pledge site also contains answers to frequently asked questions, bringing real science to the conversation around common topics, like “Are the vaccines enough to protect you from COVID-19?” and “I’ve already had COVID. Do I still need to wear a mask or take the Pledge?”

Things have gotten better. Thanks to vaccinations and our greater understanding, we’re now able to gather selectively. The HPC Covid Safety Pledge recognizes the complicated reality and helps us meet with greater peace of mind.

A Community Pledge

In short, Covid safety isn’t something one person can do alone; it requires many individuals to do it together. It can’t be a requirement; it has to be a choice. For the Pledge to work, we need to step up, together. It needs me, and it needs you.

While the Pledge is individual, the are many ways organizations can help—most importantly, by spreading the word, and indicating your support for the Pledge at an organizational level. When sending a delegation to a conference, encourage your employees to take the Pledge. Furthermore, consider how your group’s activities relate to Covid safety. Your organization can:

  • Provide resources, such as masks or tests, for those who need them.
  • Invest in additional ventilation or air filtration for booths and meeting spaces.
  • Provide your team with handheld temperature scanners for booths, meeting spaces, and receptions. If you can scan a badge, you can scan for fever.
  • Consider eliminating optional gatherings or moving them outdoors. Choose meeting spaces with ample ventilation, and ask attendees to self-test within 24 hours of attendance.

We love the HPC community, and we love it when we gather. Those of us behind the HPC Covid Safety Pledge look forward to seeing you at SC22 and other HPC events to come. We’ll be fully vaccinated, and we’ll smile at you from behind our masks. We’ll take a Covid test before we meet, and if we feel sick, we’ll stay back, knowing you’ll understand. Please take the HPC Covid Safety Pledge, and we’ll see you at our next event.

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