“Trust the science,” that’s what experts have been saying since the beginning of the pandemic. Given the virus was novel and the world didn’t know much about how it transmitted, shutting down businesses, concerts, sporting events, etc. was the logical step until researchers could study it and understand what safety protocols were necessary. The world understands much more about how to prevent widespread coronavirus transmission now than it did in early 2020. Are concerts safe during a pandemic? What does the health data actually say?
Hundreds or even thousands of people in the same place didn’t sound like a good idea at the start of 2020 with COVID-19 cases increasing at an alarming rate. The live music industry pressed pause on the music putting events on hold. Some promoters continued to hold illegal raves, often dubbed “plague raves.” However, vaccines are now more widely accessible in the United States and several other countries, so the question of large-scale festivals and concerts returning is upon us. Nearly half of all U.S. residents have had at least one vaccine dose. The vaccination effort has been a marvel of modern science and logistics and has led to amazing outcomes including zero new COVID deaths in several states and dropping COVID-19 cases.
However, 6AM did a deep dive into what the scientific data actually says about holding live events now that the world is opening. So are concerts and festivals safe during a pandemic? Let’s dig into the data.
The scientific community has known for a while that the biggest risk for coronavirus transmission is in indoor settings with poor ventilation where people take off their masks. In fact, over 94 percent of COVID super-spreader events occurred indoors in certain studies. Outdoor transmission of COVID has been shown to be extremely low, in fact as little as 1 percent, and those are generally traced to in situations where people are in close contact.
Even before vaccinations, 20,000 people attended an outdoor NASCAR event in Tennessee; socially distanced and masked. The health department only traced four COVID cases potentially back to the event. There is still the possibility attendees were infected either before or after the event, but it still remains the event was not a super-spreader. Other large-scale outdoor sporting events have been hosting several fans, distanced and masked, and have not been traced back to super-spreading.
There is a misconception that any event where there are a large number of attendees will cause a major uptick in cases, but the data clearly shows that with proper protocols, outdoor events are quite safe even prior to the vaccination effort.
A recent study conducted in Spain was designed to contact trace 5,000 attendees of an indoor concert with just masks and no social distancing. Attendees were tested before and after the event and required to wear masks. Only six people tested positive after the event, and researchers concluded that four of them actually caught COVID elsewhere.
Are concerts safe during a pandemic? Signs point to yes.
Even though outdoor transmission has been negligible, the question still remains if events such as concerts or festivals are safe during a pandemic. One questions if these events where strangers tend to mingle and crowds are in close quarters will spread COVID. It’s a question scientists actually wanted to answer to ensure the arts and culture sector could resume, as it employs hundreds of thousands of people.
The Netherlands kicked off a series of studies for which types of events could be held. FieldLab, the organization researching the events, required attendees of various test events to be tested for COVID and wear masks at events. The results were encouraging, and the Dutch government is giving the green light for more events to be held.
A recent study conducted in Spain was designed to contact trace 5,000 attendees of an indoor concert with just masks and no social distancing. Attendees were tested before and after the event and required to wear masks. Only six people tested positive after the event, and researchers concluded that four of them actually caught COVID elsewhere. Interestingly, the six positive cases out of 5,000 attendees is a lower positivity rate than the surrounding city of Barcelona where the concert was held.
Just recently, the government in the UK traced potential COVID spread with indoor concerts as well, without social distancing or mandatory mask usage. The only safety protocol in place was attendees producing a negative COVID test prior to entry. According to one government source, these concerts are “no riskier than going shopping.” The initial results are promising and will continue to pave the path to re-opening the live music industry fully, with proper safety protocols.
The city of Liverpool recently piloted test events, including two raves attended by more than 6,000 clubbers. No social distancing was enforced. Researchers found no detectable spread of COVID after testing all the attendees before and after the event.
These test events provide evidence that testing or requiring proof of vaccination before an event are likely the key to prevent community spread.
In the United States in particular, COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are all on the decline for five weeks in a row. The country reported 4,165 deaths related to COVID this week. The lowest total since March 2020. Out of 50 states, 46 continue to see declining cases while four have actually seen an uptick in cases. So, the nation is on the right path and hopefully, cases will continue to decline. Unfortunately not every country is on the same path, with places such as India and Brazil currently experiencing surges in cases. Despite that, those countries are actually not stopping large gatherings.
Thankfully due to the large-scale vaccination efforts, certain parts of the world will likely continue to see declining cases making a return back to concerts and festivals all the more likely.
Once Texas announced the removal of COVID-19 restrictions including mask mandates, event organizers were quick to jump into action. Ubbi Dubbi, the self-proclaimed “first festival back,” took place on April 27 – 28, 2021. The festival location was Ellis County, Texas. After the festival, people on social media debated whether the festival would set the live music community back with such a large attendance and potential lack of social distancing. However, tracking the data, COVID cases continue to decline in both Ellis County and Texas overall. Of course, many attendees likely traveled to the festival so tracking cases just in Texas does not provide a complete picture. Overall, as mentioned, most states are still seeing declining cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
As of May 17, 2021, Ellis County reports zero new COVID cases.
Many promoters will now be enforcing safety standards at their events to reduce the potential risk of COVID spread. 6AM will require either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test with results no older than 72 hours for admittance. COVID protocol is subject to change based on CDC regulations.
House and techno festival Seismic Dance Event (May 21 – 23, 2021) will also require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to enter. Lollapalooza has just announced its return at full capacity for this summer. The Chicago festival will require a COVID vaccination or a negative COVID test for entry. Mass vaccination plus these safety protocols are going to ensure the live music industry isn’t a source of major COVID spread.
Those of you who have been worried about concerts and festivals spreading COVID can feel a bit of relief. The events are likely safe to resume in countries where COVID cases are declining. As long as safety protocols are enforced, concerts and festivals are actually not any more likely to spread COVID than other activities putting to rest a long debate. Fans and artists alike are eager to get back to the dancefloor. Just do the right thing for everyone else in attendance and get vaccinated if you are eligible to avoid another shut-down. Vaccines are safe, effective, and are the ticket out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gear up because this summer is going to be one for the history books.