GDC and San Francisco's tourism industry association gave gaming conference attendees incomplete and outdated virus updates as big companies pulled out


San Francisco

  • San Francisco’s main tourism industry group told attendees of the Game Developers Conference that the health department says “the risk to the general public is low” – the actual quote is “the risk to the general public is currently low, the global picture is changing rapidly.” 
  • The GDC web page devoted to giving attendees the latest virus updates fails to mention San Francisco’s state of emergency and links to old health department information.
  • This is the second time city leaders have sent a letter to tech conference-goers reassuring them about the evolving virus situation. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A San Francisco tourism industry association released a letter this week to people registered for next month’s Game Developers Conference that sought to allay coronavirus fears while using partial and selective quotes from city officials.

The quotes used by the San Francisco Travel Association appeared to play down the city’s assessment of the risks, while organizers of the conference — the largest annual event for video game developers — have failed to mention San Francisco’s recently declared state of emergency in the updates posted online about the conference and the coronavirus.

The situation underscores the fluid and quickly-evolving nature of the coronavirus epidemic and the efforts by businesses and industry groups to respond to a health crisis that threatens to wipe out millions or more in lost business.  The GDC gaming conference is one of several large upcoming tech events in San Francisco, and comes after the cyber-security focused RSA conference saw several large companies drop out due to coronavirus fears.

Several large companies including Microsoft, Sony, Electronic Arts, and Facebook have dropped out of the GDC conference, which is scheduled to take place from March 16 to 20.  On Friday, Amazon pulled out of the GDC conference.

In a letter dated February 25, San Francisco Travel Association CEO Joe D’Alessandro told registered attendees of the GDC show that “We want you to know that, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health, ‘There are zero confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in San Francisco, and the risk to the general public is low’.” 

In fact, the health department website that D’Alessandro’s letter links to actually says:

“Although there are zero confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in San Francisco residents, and the risk to the general public is currently low, the global picture is changing rapidly and we need to step-up preparedness.” (Italics added.)

Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco’s director of health, said this week that “This is a global outbreak that is entering a new phase, and we must be prepared.” He added, “This is not business as usual.”

The quote D’Alessandro used was published in gaming blogs this week and his letter was linked to by The Washington Post. The health department told Business Insider on Friday morning that its current statement about the city’s virus situation is: “Although there are still zero confirmed cases in San Francisco residents, we are stepping up our preparedness in case that changes. The global picture is changing rapidly, and we are taking the necessary steps to protect San Franciscans from harm.”

The coronavirus outbreak, which originated in Wuhan, China, has killed 2,858 people and infected more than 83,000 around the world. It has spread to at least 51 other countries. 

It is possible that the outdated quote had been used in earlier materials by the health department before the virus concerns deepened. Patients are being treated at University of California, San Francisco Hospital after being taken from a Japanese cruise ship and then to Travis Air Force Base. A whistleblower complaint from a federal healthcare employee says evacuations at the air base were done unsafely. 

Updates don’t mention San Francisco’s “state of emergency”

The same day that D’Alessandro’s letter was published, San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency in the city due to the coronavirus. Breed and the department of health stressed that the emergency declaration is to help the city prepare in case the virus situation there worsens.

But the city’s emergency declaration, albeit a proactive measure, was not included on a web page published by the GDC conference organizers designed to “keep the GDC community appraised of the latest updates” and “new information.” The web page links to a February 4 letter from the health department stating that it is “not recommending the cancellation of public events at this time.” 

GDC told Business Insider on Friday “if you can bear with us, we’re hoping to have an update soon and we will share that with you as soon as we’re able.”

Breed’s office did not reply to requests for comment on how risk-assessments for city promotion of conferences are being made. D’Alessandro’s tourism group reports San Francisco convention attendees spend an average of $567 per day. 

The San Francisco Tourism Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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