PAX West, the popular gaming convention, will go down as a physical event this September, event organizers announced via press release today. I probably don’t need to tell you why that isn’t exactly the best idea.
PAX West is scheduled to take place over Labor Day weekend (September 3 through 6) at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle. Tickets go on sale this week: $230 for the whole four-day weekend, or $60 for individual day passes. If that’s all you need to know, well, there you go. But, like every other long-running in-person event, PAX’s standing over the past year has been on shaky ground.
As recently as December 2020, PAX organizers Reedpop and Penny Arcade were optimistic about a 2021 PAX schedule. PAX East would take place in early June, PAX West in early September, and Pax Unplugged in the middle of December, all provided the covid-19 pandemic abated, or at least eased to manageable levels. That plan was sketched out as a second wave of the pandemic—spurred by holiday travel and loosened social distancing regulations—embroiled the United States. Between then and now, around 300,000 Americans died as a result of covid-19.
In March, PAX organizers canceled PAX East, citing extremely reasonable health and safety concerns. (For perspective, had plans proceeded apace, PAX East would’ve occurred three weeks ago.) It was replaced with the all-digital PAX Online next month. At the time, organizers remained optimistic that a September PAX West could still happen.
That optimism, at least per health regulations, appears to have not been in vain. Personally, I can’t shake the sense that it’s just a beat too early to congregate by the thousands in a cramped, sweaty convention hall.
To be sure, in the United States, we’re on the up and up. Vaccination distribution ramped up significantly through winter and into the spring. These vaccinations have done a tremendous job at reducing hospitalizations and deaths, particularly among the most vulnerable populations. And even without the vaccinations, evidence suggests that our collective understanding about how covid works—and how to manage it in those who contract it—has dramatically reduced the death rate compared to the disease’s worst periods, though these figures still aren’t quite at pre-March 2020 levels.
But we’re still in the dark about some key variables. We don’t know for sure how long the efficacy of covid-19 vaccines lasts, according to the CDC. (Vaccine manufacturers seem to think somewhere in the realm of “not forever” is a safe estimate.) We know that the vaccine is effective against some, but not necessarily all, variants. Notably, we don’t quite know yet how it fares against the newly emerging “delta variant.” (However, one U.K. study said the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines offer some protection.)
And this is to say nothing of the insidious, maddening anti-vaxxer campaign that stands poised to fuck up the hard-earned progress we’ve made. One recent poll suggests that 1 in 5 Americans don’t plan to get vaccinated at all. According to data compiled by NPR, about 45 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated. For “herd immunity”—the threshold at which enough people in a given population are inoculated to the point transmission is unlikely, thus stopping the disease in its tracks—we’d need to hit a target somewhere between 70 or 80 percent of the population. Experts now believe that is unattainable in the United States. Small wonder why publications like Vox, Bloomberg, and The Washington Post have posited that the country could face a resurgence of covid-19 this fall.
“If covid-19 remains a major barrier to safely gathering at one of our shows, we won’t do it or we will take it virtual,” PAX organizers wrote in a tweet this December. “As much as we miss, even crave, the togetherness and magic of PAX, we will not put attendees, exhibitors, or our guests at risk for the sake of an event if things aren’t on the up and up.”