MAFA 2023 Conference: Super Spreader Event?

When I first joined the Warped Weavers everyone told me how I had to go to MAFA in 2023 (the MidAtlantic Fiber Association conference–it’s the umbrella group all the guilds belong to) because the classes were so good, it’s only about 90 minutes away and since it’s biannual, I wouldn’t get another chance until 2025. The pricing is very reasonable.

I noticed they didn’t have a Covid policy on the website so I emailed them back on January 6th asking about it. I did get a polite response saying that they were going to talk about it at their meeting and that I should check the site in a couple weeks but to feel free to email them back.

Last week they finally had a policy posted but it basically states they are doing nothing. They aren’t requiring masks, they aren’t making any strides to increase airflow via windows or fans and they aren’t allowing any food to be removed from the cafeteria so your on-campus meal option is sitting with dozens of unmasked strangers or driving off campus (where??) on breaks for food. They “suggest” masking and say there will be hand sanitizer available. They explicitly welcome unvaccinated attendees, vendors, and educators. They do not state anything encouraging people to test before or during the event.

I really feel like not taking it seriously is a violation of their non-Discrimination Statement—“MAFA does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, personal appearance, age, national origin, political affiliation, physical or mental disability, or on the basis of the exercise of rights secured by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution”.

By not taking any steps against Covid transmission MAFA is effectively saying that anyone with health concerns or concerns for the health of others is not welcome. 

There are some really basic steps the conference could take if they were concerned about the health of the attendees and being inclusive to all. For example:  requiring masking, increased ventilation in classrooms with fans and opened windows, take-out food, or boxed meal options. I was told they were not options.

Eating in an enclosed cafeteria among dozens of unmasked people even “distanced” will lead to massive spread because of how Covid is transmitted how ventilation works and how long it is found in public spaces*. Hand sanitizers do not protect against an airborne virus.

I wrote to them saying how disappointed I was in the policy and outlining the above concerns and was basically told that the windows in many rooms don’t open, the college won’t let them do any sort of alternative takeout meal option (odd because the meal is a boxed lunch on the last day), true single rooms are very limited so you will be at least sharing bathrooms with unmasked strangers and that since the state isn’t mandating masks they will not take any additional steps to protect anyone attending.

Frankly, I find it bizarre because I’m a member of three guilds and have attended info sessions with a fourth and as of today, all of four of them are “still” either entirely virtual or have hybrid meetings and events because of Covid. The few in-person events are still largely outdoors and if not, in a well-ventilated room with vaccinations required and masking encouraged or required. I know MAFA has also been having virtual events. It seems clear to me that individual guilds (two of which are extremely close to where the conference is being held) are concerned about the health of their members. Why isn’t the conference?

I’m sure everyone wants to get back to what it was in 2018 but this is our normal now. Not requiring at least masking doesn’t seem to fit into MAFA’s stated goal “providing a nurturing environment” to anyone who has concerns about their health and that of the health of other attendees.

Beyond Covid I had thought about taking the spinning class at MAFA 23 since the ikat class I was really interested in wasn’t going to include the indigo dye portion (you may remember that I tried to take that workshop separately from the conference and Mary Zicafoose canceled) but I haven’t eaten indoors with strangers or in at any restaurant in 3 years. I’m not going to get Covid or spread it to others at what is supposed to be a fun event.

It’s really turned into something that was giving me quite a bit of stress to think about and that is not the point. Some of the Warped Weavers might go as day trippers so that’s a possibility but I really am leaning towards not going at all.

My husband had even talked about renting a house off campus and bringing the dogs and making a mini trip of it but that’s so much money so I could go to something that I felt was really not keeping the health of the community in mind. Do I really want to give them any of my money? I don’t like giving money to places that don’t share my values if I can help it and MAFA 23 is a completely voluntary activity.

I was told that were was some pushback about requiring masks at the national conference that they wanted to avoid. It bothers me that they would rather appease people who don’t care about science or the health of the community as a whole than keep their, let’s be honest, largely elderly community safe.

They pointed out that the college that is hosting doesn’t do any mitigation for their students and apparently that’s fine but they don’t have to accept that. This blithe statement doesn’t take into account how many people have been sickened and potentially disabled at the college or who can’t attend or work there at all because of these policies. We can chose to do better.

They say they will revisit it in May when you can still get your money back but they charge you $75 to cancel your ticket. I get they are a volunteer-run conference (which they really shouldn’t be at this scale 🚩) but they are willfully choosing an ableist and noninclusive path for this event in what seems like the interest of ease. They can take steps and even admitted there are concerns but they will not do anything because they legally don’t have to.

*“Transmission of COVID-19 from inhalation of virus in the air can occur at distances greater than six feet. Particles from an infected person can move throughout an entire room or indoor space. The particles can also linger in the air after a person has left the room – they can remain airborne for hours in some cases.

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