Masks will be optional at the 2022 Sweets and Snacks Expo, as of now.

That’s according to the show’s COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions, which were last updated March 22. The Expo is slated to be held May 23-26 at McCormick Place in Chicago.

The National Confectioners Association, which runs the Expo, said the decision is in line with the latest CDC guidance. However, it could change if the CDC or federal or local officials change their requirements or guidance. 

The Expo also will not require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to attend. That decision also was made by factoring in the latest CDC guidance, which currently classifies Chicago as low risk.

The move represents a shift from what had previously been stated by the Expo organizers because federal guidance and local restrictions have changed. Most notably, the city of Chicago dropped its mask and vaccination requirements for public gatherings on Feb. 28.

However, as April 21, the state of Illinois is seeing an uptick in COVID cases. The latest New York Times COVID data shows that cases are up 80 percent compared to two weeks ago, and nationwide, cases are up 49 percent compared to two weeks ago.

If Chicago’s CDC COVID-19 Community level reaches medium, the city would start recommending masks again. And if it reaches high, masks would again be required indoors during the surge. The CDC’s COVID-19 Community Levels combine case counts, new COVID hospital admissions, and hospital beds occupied by COVID patients to determine risk level.

“As the virus continues to evolve, our monitoring systems remain strong and our health care system is able to respond,” said CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D. in a Chicago news release issued April 19. “The steady, gradual increase in cases does not suggest that we will see a large spike like we saw with the original Omicron variant. Even more important — and very different from the beginning of the pandemic — very few cases are resulting in severe illness, thanks to widespread vaccination.”  

The Expo said all of its COVID safety decisions were made in accordance with federal, state, and local regulations, as well as guidance from the CDC, and they will update their protocols if any of that changes.

The Expo will be taking some COVID precautions, including: 

  • Encouraging social distancing where feasible
  • Installing hand-sanitizing stations throughout the show
  • Enhancing physical cleaning with regular sanitizing of high-traffic areas throughout the show floor and common areas, including doorways, elevators and escalators

“The health and safety of the Sweets & Snacks Expo community is the show’s top priority, and show management will abide by state and local requirements, as well as CDC guidance, to keep visitors to the show safe,” organizers said on the show’s website.

For its part, McCormick also had made upgrades to help protect visitors from COVID-19.

The Chicago facility has added new technology, like more touch-free, automatic doors. And they are allowing non-automatic doors to be propped open to minimize touches by guests and staff.

The conference center also is working to ensure the highest possible air quality by utilizing its team of building engineers who regularly verify compliance within McCormick Place and the Wintrust Arena with ASHRAE standards. This engineering team also works with Hyatt and Marriott personnel in the hotels to maintain consistent standards across McCormick Square.

Sampling protocols

The Expo also will not have any restrictions on who can receive and consume samples, or where they can be eaten at the show.

All exhibitors are still encouraged to pre-package samples for distribution to attendees on the show floor, but pre-packaging is not required. And pre-packaged samples are still required for participation in the Most Innovative New Product Awards judging.

Cancelation policies

The Expo’s COVID-19 FAQ section also detailed what would happen if any attendees need to cancel.

The website said that every hotel room reservation booked through onPeak, the Sweets & Snacks Expo’s official housing contractor, is held without a deposit until May 1. 

“In the unlikely event the show is not permitted to take place, all reservations will be canceled without a deposit being taken, so there will be no cancellation fees due,” organizers said. “If you decide not to attend Sweets & Snacks Expo, but the show has not been canceled, you will be able to cancel your hotel reservation up to May 5 without a cancellation fee. If you reserve accommodations independently, please confirm cancellation dates and fees with the hotel.”

Organizers said they do not anticipate having to cancel the show. However, if that does happen, they said the Board of Trustees and staff will be transparent in their decision making and will take into consideration what is best for NCA, the industry and the community.

And show cancellation is the only reason attendees would be able to get a refund, according to the Expo site. 

If an exhibitor has an employee who cannot attend at the last minute, they will be able to change them out right before the show.

For all of the NCA’s most up-to-date COVID-19 information, visit the Expo’s website.