MLH’s Response to COVID-19

Last Reviewed: October 12, 2020; Last Updated: October 12, 2020

The novel coronavirus, COVID-19 is, as we’re all very aware, an unprecedented situation. As an organization that helps power thousands of events worldwide, Major League Hacking (MLH) is providing recommendations based on guidance provided by national and international public health authorities.

As MLH events come in all shapes and sizes and take place all over the world, each event will be different. As the spread of COVID-19 continues and precautions evolve, we’ll do our best to keep this resource updated for everyone.

Today, many local, regional, and national public health authorities are recommending the cancelation of large events. MLH continues to recommend all affiliated events maintain a digital format. We continue to make this recommendation so organizers, sponsors, and hackers may have stability in the events they elect to attend.

MLH is a global organization and we recognize the impact of COVID-19 is different throughout the world. As such MLH has guidelines for the physical events we will consider:

  1. Events must have the approval of school, local, regional, and national health authorities
  2. Aggressively follow health guidelines
  3. Have no community spread in their geography for the duration of the planning process

As everyone takes action to socially distance themselves it becomes more important that we have ways to gather digitally, while slowing the spread of COVID-19.

This post contains guidance for: Hackers, Organizers, and Sponsors; plus additional resources.

Other Resources:
We’ve created the following additional resources for attendees and organizers to reference:


We are currently recommending all MLH affiliated events remain digital. This means you may have more opportunities to hack than in any year previous. In rare cases, we may approve events that have physical components.

We’re working with every event to make sure their digital format still allows you to get everything you expect from MLH events: quality, learning, socializing, and fun.


MLH is currently recommending all events remain digital.

However, there may be certain times when MLH will approve events with physical components, given that they have the approval of school, local, regional, and national health authorities and that they aggressively follow health guidelines. Physical components are subject to the following additional requirements:

  • Events offering minor physical components like swag or hardware pickup may be approved if all health guidelines are met.
  • Events who wish to have a sustained physical component (such as hacking or meeting in person) must have no community spread in their geography for the duration of the planning process. These events must have a digital contingency plan in place in case community spread does occur and they must be canceled or moved digital.

As social distancing continues, your events serve as the opportunity for your community to come together.

We have a variety of resources available to help make digital events easy and help your event maintain a community focus: MLH Hackathons, MLH Localhost, and MLH Local Hack Day.

Working with Sponsors

As this new digital format has new (and mostly lower) costs, sponsorship is a different issue than typical physical events. See our guide for more information.

We’re hearing many sponsors are canceling their participation in hackathons due to COVID-19. Before having a sponsor pull out entirely, you may be able to speak with them about doing virtual activations. Please reach out to your Hackathon Community Manager to learn more.

Explain to your sponsors that you’re a student run event and you rely on their contributions to make the event occur. In this uncertain time, many sponsors may be understanding and willing to continue their sponsorship, even if they cannot participate digitally.

Always refer to your sponsorship agreements for what recourse you and your sponsors have when it comes to backing out and refunds.


MLH events are digital except under very stringent circumstances.

We’ve seen great success in this novel format, including when it comes to sponsor success metrics. We’ve seen project submission rates remain similar to those of in-person hackathons and are actively working with event organizers to ensure they are able to run a successful digital event with successful sponsor activations.

We’re working hard to provide hackathons with tooling and suggestions to make sponsorship useful for you. Your participation in the event is what makes it possible for every hacker to experience.

Additional Resources

While we’ve done our best to collect resources that might be helpful for you, we encourage you to do your own research as you will be better equipped to find information in your area.

IANPHI has a list of most National Public Health Institutes (NPHIs)


The WHO has a resource center for COVID-19. They have also put out recommendations for planning mass gatherings both as interim guidance for COVID-19 and general mass gathering guidance.

Worldwide and in most regions we serve governments are recommending social/physical distancing including maintaining 3-6 ft (~1-2m) of separation between people and limits to gatherings.

United States

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the NPHI for the United States. They have an extensive resource center on the COVID-19 novel coronavirus with constantly evolving information.

The CDC has provided guidance for large events organizers and also provides guidance for school and university administrations.

They recommend contact directories for state and local health officials.


The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has a resource for COVID-19 and has provided contact details.

PHAC also provides a resource for accessing risk at mass gatherings.

United Kingdom

Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care have a resource for COVID-19 and a growing list of guidance, including guidance for educational settings.


The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has a resource for COVID-19 and a list of national authorities on the issue.


The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has detailed information and resources for COVID-19 including Standard Operating Protocols (SOPs) for events.