The National Retail Federation says it's not canceling its convention, even as one in three COVID tests in New York City came back positive over a seven-day period, according to city data as of Dec. 31.

The National Retail Federation plans to host more than 20,000 people in person at its annual convention in New York City next week despite a surge in COVID cases.

The event comes at a critical time for the industry, which is grappling with labor shortages and supply constraints. Organizers say all attendees must be fully vaccinated and will be required to wear masks. COVID testing is recommended before travel to New York, and both test kits and PCR testing will be available on-site at the Javits Center.

“Retailers have been safely navigating the pandemic for 21 months,” a spokesperson for the NRF said in an email. The organization “has been working closely with local health and safety officials.”

The event typically draws executives, analysts and business leaders from around the world. This year’s speakers represent big brick-and-mortar retailers such as Target Corp., Walmart Inc. and Best Buy Co., as well as trendy e-commerce startups like Allbirds Inc.

The question remains whether any amount of precautions can mitigate the spread of highly contagious variants like omicron at large events. While data suggest omicron causes less severe disease than prior waves of the pandemic, the staggering number of cases being reported still threatens to overwhelm hospitals. The U.S. added more than 1 million people to its COVID-19 case count on Monday. In New York City, one in three COVID tests came back positive over a seven-day period, according to city data as of Dec. 31.


CES this week will be a test. The consumer tech show opens Wednesday in Las Vegas with 2,200 exhibitors and “tens of thousands of attendees registered,” according to a spokesperson. The event will be a fraction of the size of the last in-person CES in 2020, which had more than 170,000 attendees.