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Office of the Provost

Event Planning Guidelines



Table of Contents

I. Event Size and Location Guidelines

Crowd/Audience Size
Outdoor Spaces
Event Duration & Turnover Time
Ticketed Events

II. General Health Guidelines for Events and Performances

Face Coverings
High Touch Areas
Handwashing and/or Sanitizer Stations, Restrooms

III. Public Interface Guidelines

IV. Health Messaging Guidelines for Events and Performances

V. Facilities Guidelines

VI. Performer and Event Worker Recommendations

VII. Alternative Engagement and Livestreaming Recommendations

VIII. Event Management Procedure

IX. COVID-19 Event Mitigation Review and Approval Parameters and Procedures

X. Event Food Service Guidelines

XI. Disciplinary Procedures

XII. Contact Us



Households: For the purposes of this document, households will be defined as immediate family units.


All event plans must be flexible to adapt quickly to evolving federal, state, local, and institutional guidelines, which are subject to change during the event planning period. Therefore, these guidelines are subject to change frequently. Please check back regularly. 

Note: These guidelines are applicable to event management in Academic and Student Affairs. Policies regarding intercollegiate athletic competitions will be developed separately to align with National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and Conference USA requirements.

Event Size and Location Guidelines

Crowd/Audience Size 

Crowd sizes will follow current mandates from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), governor and appropriate local officials in terms of capacities for type of event with the following adjustments:

  • For indoor events a threshold of no more than 25% of room capacities be allowed with appropriate social distancing capacities up to a maximum of ten (10) total participants.
  • For outdoor events, no outdoor event will be permitted with more than fifty (50) participants and appropriate social distancing guidelines shall be applied.
  • Receptions and dinners may be held with no more than twenty-five percent (25%) of the total room capacity and appropriate social distancing enforced. Further, food service will be made available in a seated capacity consistent with social distancing and touchless guidelines. Similarly, crowd sizes for performances will be capped at 25% of venue capacity/occupancy.

  • In all events and performances, a minimum of 6’ social distancing must be possible per attendee.
  • Should the governor increase or remove capacity guidelines for “group gatherings” (events) and/or for crowd capacities in “arenas” (which are correlated to theatres and seated performance venues in this document), events and performances should be capped at no more than 30% of venue capacity/occupancy in all future scenarios. This plan assures a level of protection appropriate to our populated university setting.
  • Crowd and audience sizes may be smaller depending on a venue’s ability to meet COVID guidelines for venue access and egress. Any event may limit crowd and audience sizes if there is an inability to regulate health and safety issues for attendees.
  • Any event that cannot accommodate a weather emergency while adhering to COVID guidelines will be cancelled in the event of inclement weather, such as a tornado warning.
  • Room capacities are available to determine percentage capacities. Event planners may consider subdividing larger spaces into smaller spaces to accommodate attendees (ex: subdividing TCC ballrooms from one large into three smaller spaces).
  • Because demand may exceed capacity for some events and performances, event planners should consider if there is any particular reason to limit live event attendance to USM student, faculty staff, and/or non-USM individuals. (See “Livestreaming” below).
  • Managing event attendance should be done through pre-registration, first-come, first-served, and/or touchless ticketing. (See “Public Interface Guidelines” below.) Event planners should be careful to not oversell tickets in advance and certainly not in excess of 25% of venue capacity.
  • Six feet social distancing is required. 

Outdoor Spaces

Use outdoor venues when feasible due to indoor spaces possibly having poor ventilation and people tending to be closer together indoors.

While opting to hold events outdoors may mitigate the issue of capacity, there are additional areas to address in terms of event regulation.

  • For outdoor events, align participant levels with the most stringent guidelines provided by the CDC and federal, state, and local government.
  • Clear boundaries for events are required, with defined entrances and exits to control crowd sizes and access. Perimeters should be marked off. The “come and go” of attendees should be monitored through established perimeters and entrances/exit.
  • Event planners should be aware of resources needed to meet the guidelines as outdoor sites are not always equipped to address necessary health and safety measures. For this reason, any cap may be lowered to assure safe regulation, given the specifics of the location.
  • Events may be lengthened to accommodate “waves” of attendees on a rotation basis. While this may require repetitive programming, it allows for more attendees to participate in a given event.
  • As with indoor events, demand may exceed capacity for some events and performances, so event planners should consider if there is any particular reason to limit attendance to USM student, faculty staff, and/or non-USM individuals
  • Spaces on campus will be identified as suitable for outside events; events can be assigned to these spaces. 


  • All seated events will be planned in advance with seating designated to allow 6’ distancing between guests.
  • Areas of seating should be saved for family/couple seating.
  • Balconies should be used in buildings where available.
  • Seating should fill from front row to the back row to limit people crossing over each other. Egress should follow reverse fashion.
  • Unused seats should be identified through taping.
  • Used seats and armrests should be disinfected after performance; disposable seat covers can be considered.

Event Duration & Turnover Time

  • In order to reduce high contact areas and attendee congregation, lengths of events should be reduced (no intermissions, etc.). This is not to say events cannot be over a certain length, but that the length of performances should be considered against all guidelines supporting the health of patrons.
  • Presenters of events over two hours in length in enclosed spaces should consider how to meet any needs of patrons that might arise during a performance.
  • All event planners should build in time between events for sanitizing and disinfecting. This may be for a space used on a daily basis (ex: every night) or for venues used multiple times in a day (ex: Marsh Auditorium).

Ticketed Events

  • Sell tickets for no more than 1/3 of the seating capacity allowed in the facility/venue until further notice.
  • Adhere to physical distancing measures (minimally 6 feet of distance between individuals) along with other protocols for minimizing the spread of COVID-19 included in this document.
  • When applicable, have plans for entering and exiting the venue to minimize close contact and large crowds in lobbies, foyer areas, at exits, and on stairways.
  • Expect other requirements to minimize the spread of COVID-19. These may include hand sanitizing stations, temperature checks, and/or face coverings. Additional information will be provided as it becomes available.

General Health Guidelines for Events and Performances

All events are expected to follow the health guidelines for University employees as outlined in the protocols/procedures for phased return to work.

  • Avoid employee and attendee physical contact and adopt alternate options (avoid handshaking, etc.).
  • Limit the duration of the event, i.e. meet no longer than the time needed to complete the task/purpose of the event.
  • Develop a flexible staffing structure for all events in order to plan for employee absences.

Face Coverings

  • Policies for wearing face coverings will follow university guidelines, and in some cases will be more stringent. Face coverings will be required for indoor and outdoor events and performances.
  • Face coverings and temperature checks should be required of all staff managing events. Gloves must be worn if public touchpoints are needed.

High Touch Areas

  • All high touch areas should be sanitized thoroughly prior to the event, throughout the event and shortly thereafter. 
  • All touch surfaces should be minimized to the greatest extent possible. Examples include, but are not limited to:
  • Providing electronic check-in vs. paper/pen sign-ins.
  • Wiping down technical equipment between programs if it is being shared by presenters.
  • Avoiding shared microphones if at all possible; disinfecting between usage if not.
  • Minimizing handouts or other material distributions and moving to digital formats for information distribution.
  • As many entrances/exits as possible should be blocked off to limit touchpoints such as door handles (subject to fire and safety regulations). Doors should be propped open so that no touching would occur (if not a fire hazard).
  • Signage should be displayed telling guests upon entering to use hand sanitizer or wash hands immediately.
  • Escalators and elevators should be cleaned before, during and after an event.
  • Areas for congregation should be minimized at event venues.

Handwashing and/or Sanitizer Stations, Restrooms

  • Handwashing and/or sanitizer stations must be available, visible, easily accessible, and fully stocked during entirety of all indoor and outdoor events and performances.
  • Event workers should have time built into their shifts for handwashing.
  • Use of public restrooms will adhere to campus building COVID guidelines and will be limited to accommodate social distancing. Restroom doors should be sanitized before, during and after events and performances

Public Interface Guidelines

Public interface refers to when an audience member or event attendee makes initial contact with an event or performance venue. There are a number of factors to consider when event planning during COVID-19. Guidelines for public interface include:

  • Ensure reasonable accommodations are made for attendees. Ensure guests can get into facilities and into seating if only one person at a time can take elevators. Ensure all ADA compliance.
  • Manage event attendance through pre-registration, pre-show ticket sales, “first-come, first-served,” touchless ticketing, and/or ticket placement at venue.
  • Stagger and pre-schedule patron arrival times, factoring in such things as ticket scanning/retrieval (preferably electronic), wanding, bag/security checks, etc.
  • Provide physical guides, such as tape on floors or sidewalks, stations, or signs on walls to ensure that individuals remain at least 6 feet apart in lines or otherwise in the venue.
  • Provide anticipated wait time signage.
  • Display physical distancing guidelines.
  • Consider scheduled egress from back to front in venues with auditorium style-seating. (See “Facilities Guidelines” below.)
  • Consider use of escalators and how to ensure handrails are cleaned/sanitized often. Put hand sanitizer at bottom and top of escalator for guests to use as they get on.
  • Avoid employee and attendee physical contact and adopt alternate options (avoid handshaking, etc.). Display signage to avoid hugging, handshaking, elimination of programs/bulletins/handouts, tickets and/money exchange, etc.
  • Display program, agenda, and/or event handouts electronically.
  • Social gatherings (e.g. receptions or similar events) that may normally accompany some events are not allowed until further notice.
  • Do not include inflatables or high touch types of equipment at events.
  • Provide online pre-ordering opportunities for merchandise and have those items ready for pick-up at the event. If pre-order is not possible, efforts must be made to ensure appropriate distancing and contactless services.

Health Messaging Guidelines for Events and Performances

Event organizers should communicate health guidelines to event participants, attendees, and audience members. Communication should be prior to the event and upon arrival at the event. All event marketing materials should include COVID messaging. All event and performance websites should be up to date on facility COVID information and expectations. Communication of audience/attendee expectations includes, but is not limited to:

  • Personal screening to identify potential symptoms may be conducted (fever, cough, etc.). Those who may be sick are not permitted to attend.
  • Temperature checks may be conducted at the venue.
  • Face coverings will be required.
  • CDC event recommendations must be followed.
  • Physical distancing will be required.
  • Discourage those who may be sick from attending.
  • Seating will be assigned or pre-determined to ensure 6’ distancing.
  • The following disclaimer should be included: The venue cannot guarantee that those in attendance are free of COVID-19 or other infectious agents.

Facilities Guidelines

The following recommendations apply to facilities on campus that regularly host a range of events and that are under the purview of a specific person. These include both indoor and outdoor spaces. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Mannoni Performing Arts Center
  • Bennett Auditorium
  • Theatre and Dance Building
  • Union
  • Thad Cochran Center
  • Lake Thoreau Environmental Center
  • Payne Center
  • Trent Lott Center
  • Challenge Course and Lake Sehoy
  • Spirit Park
  • Centennial Green
  • Peck House
  • Ogletree House
  • Marsh Auditorium
  • Fleming Educational Center Auditorium
  • Hardy Hall Ballroom

Each of these facilities should:

  • Consider “cancellation without penalties” language in COVID-19 related situations or when there is tangible evidence of a health risk. If applicable, develop a clearly defined refund policy for each event in advance. Related policies should be approved by each unit director, in consultation with executive leadership as needed.
  • Develop and review rescheduling guidelines.
  • Assure staff are trained on COVID public interface protocols. 
  • Require all booked events, including external performers, to produce a written COVID-19 mitigation policy which outlines mitigation procedures including, but not limited to the following: PPE, sanitation, and illness reporting. (See “Recommendations for Event and Performances Approval Process” below).
  • Develop checklist for mitigation procedures for performers, guest lecturers, non-associated with USM visitors to campus. This should include a pre-show checklist to be reviewed prior to performance with USM personnel and performance managers/points- of-contact. This should be a facility requirement and responsibility of the “renter”. This is in addition to the Approval process for designated event and performance venues.
  • Develop a flexible staffing structure for all events in order to plan for employee absences.
  • Review liability for staff and/or student volunteers prior to each event. 
  • Cancel any event that cannot accommodate an impending weather emergency while adhering the COVID health guidelines.
  • Develop a facility management reference that outlines any specific facility COVID-19 protocols.

Performer and Event Worker Recommendations

The following general guidelines apply for the safety and well-being of performers and event workers in all venues.

  • All performers and event workers will have their temperatures taken upon arrival at a rehearsal, performance, or event. Anyone whose temperature is above a normal reading (as determined by the institution) will not be admitted.
  • All performers and event workers must wear masks (and other PPE equipment as may be necessary, e.g. face shields, including eye guards) during rehearsals, performances, set up and strike sessions as scheduled. Masks will be worn at all times upon entering theatres and all event venues.
  • All equipment used in rehearsals (including technical rehearsals) or onstage for performances or events will be sanitized before each session and during changeovers between events, and at the conclusion of each session. This includes music stands, stage properties, stage weapons, onstage a/v equipment, microphones, lighting and sound equipment and any areas of the stage that are “high touch” such as railings, doorknobs, etc.
  • Performers and event workers should have time built into their calls/shifts for hand-washing.
  • Event workers should be provided appropriate training in order to affect their responsibilities.
  • Supervisors and Shop workers involved in pre-production work will be regulated by the same guidelines.
  • All performers and event workers will maintain a 6’ distance between any audience member or guest.
  • Performances and events should have plans for “back up” workers and understudies in the case of worker/performer quarantine or dismissal.
  • All performers and event workers must maintain 6’ physical distancing in rehearsals, performances, set up and strike sessions. This includes staff, performers, directors, choreographers, stage manager and crew. In a rehearsal, for example, it will be necessary for each person involved in the rehearsal to have a personal space to provide physical distancing from other people watching or participating in the rehearsal.
  • Performers and event workers will maintain 6’ physical distancing in all backstage areas, including hallways, green rooms and lobby areas. Backstage, it will be necessary for all people involved in a performance to have a personal space to provide physical distancing from others participating in the performance.
  • If physical distancing is not possible or if musical instruments or singing is involved, performers must utilize PPE, including masks, face shields, an/or plexiglass (or other suitable material) barriers on stage to mitigate respiration and aerosol droplet dispersion between performers.
  • Performers and event workers will be allowed to bring personal containers of water into rehearsals (or backstage during a performance, as necessary), which must be kept in the personal space assigned. No other food will be allowed in rehearsals (except for any needed for a medical condition).
  • Dressing rooms and make-up rooms will be reorganized to provide physical distancing (no less than 6’ between “stations”). Where needed and/or possible, dressing areas should be expanded into nearby classrooms or rehearsal spaces.
  • Use of backstage bathrooms will be controlled to assure that only one person uses the facility at a time. Backstage bathrooms will be cleaned and sanitized before and immediately after all performances. Hand sanitizers and clean towels will be available during all rehearsals and performances.
  • “Traffic flow” will be coordinated in and out of all spaces and venues to assure that performers and event workers can maintain physical distancing. This includes entrances and exits during rehearsal breaks; arrival and departure at theatres and other venues; movement backstage during performances and events, etc.

The number of performers and/or event workers may be limited by restrictions based on physical distancing and size of performance/backstage space. Organizers of events must take this into account, to assure the safety of everyone involved in planning or performing a performance or event.

Performing Arts disciplines (dance, music, theatre) will refer to best practices as advised by professional organizations in their respective fields. In some cases, physical distancing, face coverings, protective barriers, etc. will be recommended in excess of typical recommendations based on the activity. Venue and event-specific COVID-19 health and safety protocols should be further developed in the School of Performing & Visual Arts and the School of Music to address the following areas of performance: practice rooms, rehearsal hall usage, studio usage, backstage, technical and dress rehearsals, rehearsals, dressing rooms.

Alternative Engagement and Livestreaming Recommendations

The Event and Performance guidelines necessitate a thoughtful approach to hosting events and performances.

When appropriate, The University of Southern Mississippi encourages organizations to hold events online, even when these are staged in university venues. For example, it may be desirable to use a dance studio, but limit the audience to fellow dancers and technicians and broadcast the event live to a broader audience. Some locations on campus are equipped to accommodate virtual events, but a more thorough outfitting will be necessary to meet the needs of all programming. Installed or portable equipment is recommended for popular venues that are not already equipped.  

Online/virtual events do not require approval as long as those participating "live" do not exceed current participation guidelines.

When possible, performance planners should consider eschewing in-person audiences and, instead, provide a livestream or online recording of events.

Pursue virtual group events, gatherings, or meetings if possible.

Limit any non-essential visitors, volunteers, and activities when possible.

The Office of Leadership and Student Involvement has developed suggestions for realizing events during COVID-19 that can be found at

Event Management Procedure

Every event must have a single individual who is to be held responsible for enforcing COVID-19 Event and Performance guidelines. The responsible planner should complete the approval form and will be responsible for ensuring that the preparations outlined on the approval form are implemented as promised.

Approval forms will be hosted online and, once completed, will be forwarded to a COVID-19 event coordinator who will review the form (or distribute it to a team member for review). If the application is insufficient, the coordinator should, in most cases, make recommendations and ask the event planner to resubmit. The coordinator should consult venue facilities managers and others involved in the production of the event when appropriate.

Events from a singular unit/program that are alike in size and scope and oversight can seek batch approval. (For example, multiple performances of the same play in the same theater do not require separate approval.)

The approval process is intended to remind event planners of their responsibilities and to encourage hosts to select appropriate venues for their performances and events. Links to Event and Performance guidelines should be part of the online application. In addition, we expect that the approval process might lead event planners to choose alternative venues that allow for livestreaming or to plan outdoor events. A list of livestream capacities for campus facilities, livestream platforms, and outdoor venues will be provided within the online application. 

COVID-19 Event Mitigation Review and Approval Parameters and Procedures

  • This is not to be interpreted as where to start a facility reservation or event date scheduling process. Those elements will remain as they are within current university policies and procedures. The Covid-19 Mitigation review is an additional step for the space and event managers/planners (as a part of the event planning process) and does not negate any current event planning guidelines in existence. This also does not apply to tabling situations.  

  • Events must be booked no less than three weeks out from the anticipated datein order to afford a reasonable amount of time for the event to be reviewed both by the facility/space managers and for appropriate COVID response.  

  • The facility or space manager must submit the review form with appropriate supporting documentation when a reservation at their facility/space has occurred. The event is not to be considered fully booked until  the COVID review is complete. If an event was pre-booked early or prior to the pandemic due to contractual needs or the like, these events will receive first priority for mitigation review. For performances and events held in venues/facilities without a direct facility manager, the event planner should submit the review form directly to the mitigation review committee.  

  • The COVID Review process will make every effort to enable event planners to account for any mitigation deficiencies in as timely manner as possible. Should a threshold of 3-5 days (or whatever threshold is reasonable in consideration of the event) out from the event be reached and those minimum expectations are not being met, the event may be cancelled or rescheduled in a public health interest.  

  • The COVID Review process will have available consultation time if the event planners should request either an appointment or an onsite walk-through or direct advice/feedback of some form.  

  • Event submissions will be submitted through a 4-person panel advisory team. This team will assist in screening/verifying events as appropriate and will meet once a week via appropriate platforms in order to aid this process.  

  • Minimum expectations for events can be found on this page. However, it is within the purview of facility and space managers to tighten those minimum expectations in such a way that it enhances safety measures, but does not take away from the baseline expectations of Covid-19 mitigation outlined here.  

  • Questions can be directed to COVIDquestionsFREEMississippi.   

Event Food Service Guidelines

Should food be provided at events; the event planner should refer to COVID guidelines from Eagle Dining.

Disciplinary Procedures

Failure to meet minimum expectations of these guidelines will result in appropriate action through event rescheduling, cancellation, or through appropriate sanctioning as outlined through Human Resources, and/or the Student Code of Conduct.

Contact Us



Contact Us

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