Sunday, December 5

‘This is a public health issue’: can Covid-era music festivals be safe? | Coronavirus

IIt could have been a 2019 image: a sea of ​​mostly unmasked faces, shoulder to shoulder, singing to live music in Chicago’s Grant Park. The massive gathering of around 100,000 people daily for Lollapalooza 2021, one of the country’s most prominent music festivals, featuring Foo Fighters and Post Malone, the last weekend of July was a welcome sight for music lovers and a concerning event for public health officials. such as cases of the Delta variant of the rise of Covid-19 in the US.

The photos now appear as the naive last gasp of a pandemic-free fantasy; In the two weeks since Lollapalooza, which required proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test to attend, the rapid spread of the Delta variant has forced a list of upcoming music festivals to re-evaluate health and safety plans at an event. crucial moment for the management of the pandemic In the USA.

Featured festivals like Tennessee Bonnaroo and Milwaukee’s Summer festival, both scheduled for September, will now require vaccinations or a negative Covid test within 72 hours of the festival. Bonnaroo will also require masks indoors, while Summerfest will require them for children under the age of 12 who are not eligible for the vaccine. The New Orleans jazz and heritage festival in October was cancelled directly, with organizers quoting the “current exponential growth of new Covid cases in New Orleans and the region and the ongoing public health emergency.”

LiveNation, the largest live event operator in the country, authorized its venues and performers to enact vaccine requirements at their discretion in a Memorandum of “best practices”. On Thursday, AEG presents, the second largest live events company, followed suit with a stricter policy requiring proof of vaccination for ticket holders and crew at all locations owned or operated in the US. Jason isbell to Lucinda williams to Japanese breakfast They have said that they will only perform in places that require vaccinations or a negative Covid test; Stevie Nicks canceled all of his remaining 2021 performances.

The terrain under the organizers’ feet has changed rapidly, as state and local municipalities react to the increasing number of cases and, in some states, ICUs are once again full of Covid patients. Philadelphia’s Made in America music festival, which is expected to draw between 50,000 and 60,000 people on Labor Day weekend for top-tier musical acts like Justin Bieber, Megan Thee Stallion and Lil Baby, had postponed the announcement. of Covid restrictions until this week, differing to city orientation. Wednesday afternoon Philadelphia Officials Unveiled Radical new Covid restrictions, including masks and proof of vaccination for all indoor businesses, and mask mandates for open-air festivals without seats.

It was always the plan, as stated on the festival’s website, to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the city of Philadelphia, Desiree Perez, executive director of RocNation, told The Guardian. , who directs Made in America. As such, the festival will now require masks and proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test. “They came up with this new mandate and we will implement it,” he said.

Megan Thee Stallion performing in Lollapalooza.
Megan Thee Stallion performing in Lollapalooza. Photograph: imageSPACE / Rex / Shutterstock

“I’m not happy that we have to go through the vaccination cards and the 48-hour tests and verify the identifications and make sure that they are not false or that they are not passing false vaccination cards,” said Pérez, who said the festival has worked. with city health officials throughout the planning process. “It is not something that any festival or public business is interested or happy to do. But we have to contribute as a country to do the best for everyone and keep moving forward. “

The change in Covid protocols aligns with the recommendations of epidemiologists, who recommend applying preventive measures such as masks, social distancing and frequent testing of asymptomatic people in addition to vaccines. “It is a significant public health risk to host music festivals that do not take other types of precautions, such as social distancing or wearing face masks,” said Dr. Bruce Y Lee, Executive Director of Health Informatics and Operations Research. Cuny Public and a professor at her Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. A multi-pronged approach helps mitigate the spread of the virus and buy critical time to protect hospitals, keep schools open and vaccinate more people.

“When there are so many people gathered together who speak and sing and come from different homes and geographic locations, you must err on the side of caution,” said Dr. Bertha Hidalgo, a genetic epidemiologist and professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The potential transmission is not limited to the concert itself; Attendees could spread the virus on the journey to and from the festival, in on-site restrooms or shops, or in hotels. “There are many areas and potential for exposure beyond what can happen outdoors at the festival,” said Hidalgo.

The concern is not so much the death or serious illness of the vaccinated concertgoers: most of the infections that appear, which are very rare, cause a mild cold or flu-like symptoms; the death rate from infection with the vaccine is, according to a recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, “effectively zero.” Rather, it is the spread of the highly communicable Delta variant between partially vaccinated communities that could overwhelm hospitals and healthcare workers and risk the development of new variants.

Not all festivals are responding to transmission risks with new protocols. Pepsi Rock the South, which takes place this weekend in Cullman, Alabama, is expected to draw nearly 30,000 people for performances by the nation’s top stars including Miranda Lambert, Luke Combs and the Marshall Tucker Band. Alabama has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with 35% of the population fully vaccinated. Festivals website currently does not list any strict Covid restrictions, although masks and hand sanitizer will be available as reported. (Rock the South organizers 46 Entertainment and Premier Productions could not be reached for comment.)

Luke Combs, set to perform in Rock the South.
Luke Combs, set to perform in Rock the South. Photograph: Mark Humphrey / AP

Rock the South founder and organizer Shane Quick, he told the Outbreak Alabama podcast this week that attendees should be vaccinated “if it is something that worries them.” Quick added that his family and festival organizers were vaccinated, but the festival itself would not advocate for vaccinations. “You know that in this state, in this part of the world, people don’t react well when told what to do,” he said. “You have to let people make their own decisions.”

The issue shouldn’t be one of personal safety, Dr. Mike Levy, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, told The Guardian. “This is a public health problem. Should these municipalities allow these events to occur when the propagation that is likely to occur in these events runs out of the events?

“This is not a personal risk of going to a dangerous external transmission event and contracting it,” Levy said. “Probably no one at these concerts is going to die, but they are going to bring it home and someone’s grandfather is going to die.”

From now on, the show will continue at most festivals. RocNation’s Perez said Made in America will take place on Labor Day unless the city of Philadelphia declares otherwise. “For health reasons, if the city determines that we cannot be open, we would obviously respect it,” he said. “But if not, we will move on.”

On Thursday, Chicago’s top doctor, Dr. Allison Arwady, said 203 cases of Covid-19 were linked to Lollapalooza, with no hospitalizations or deaths, a number that he described as “not unexpected” and that presented “no evidence”That the festival was a widely publicized event.

Festivals like Rock the South and Made in America “have the potential to be done safely,” Hidalgo said, “assuming they are implementing scientifically supported protocols,” such as vaccination requirements, mask mandates and widely spaced crowds.

“We all have to figure this out one way or another,” Pérez said. Covid is, at this point, “here to stay, unfortunately. This is a problem that we all face as a country ”.

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