It could have been a picture from 2019 – a sea of ​​mostly unmasked faces, shoulder to shoulder, singing to live music in Chicago’s Grant Park. The mass gathering of around 100,000 people daily for Lollapalooza 2021, one of the most famous music festivals in the country, with Foo Fighters and Post Malone, on the last weekend of July was a welcome sight for music lovers – and a worrying event for public health officials as cases of the Delta Variant of the Covid-19 surge in the USA.

The photos now appear like the last naive breath of pandemic-free fantasy; In the two weeks since Lollapalooza that required either proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test, the rapid spread of the Delta variant has forced a number of upcoming music festivals to revise health and safety plans at a crucial time for dealing with the Pandemic in the USA.

Celebrity festivals like Bonnaroo in Tennessee and Summerfest in Milwaukee, both scheduled for September, now require vaccinations or a negative Covid test within 72 hours of the festival. Bonnaroo also requires masks indoors, while Summerfest requires them for children under 12 who are not eligible for the vaccine. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in October was completely canceled, with organizers citing the “current exponential growth of new Covid cases in New Orleans and the region and the ongoing public health emergency.”

LiveNation, the largest host of live events in the country, has empowered its venues and artists to set vaccine requirements in a “Best Practices” memo at their discretion. 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 venues it owns or operates in the United States. Artists from Jason Isbell to Lucinda Williams to Japanese Breakfast have said they will only perform in places that require vaccinations or a negative Covid test. Stevie Nicks canceled all of her remaining appearances for 2021.

The ground under the organizers’ feet has shifted quickly as state and local communities respond to rising case numbers and, in some states, once again with Covid patients in intensive care units. Philadelphia’s Made in America music festival, which is expected to attract between 50,000 and 60,000 people on Labor Day weekend for A-list music acts like Justin Bieber, Megan Thee Stallion and Lil Baby, had up until this week with Covid’s announcement -Restrictions withheld city tour. On Wednesday afternoon, Philadelphia officials revealed comprehensive new Covid restrictions, including masks and vaccination records for all indoor businesses, as well as mask requirements for outdoor festivals with no seats.

It was always the plan, as stated on the festival website, to follow the guidelines of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the City of Philadelphia, Desiree Perez, CEO of RocNation, which operates Made in America, told the Guardian . As such, the festival now requires masks and proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test. “You came up with this new mandate and we will implement it,” she said.

Megan Thee stallion at Lollapalooza. Photo: imageSPACE / Rex / Shutterstock

“I don’t get happy that we have to check vaccination cards and 48-hour tests and IDs and make sure they’re not fake or passing on fake vaccination cards,” said Perez, who said the festival worked with city health officials during the entire planning process. “It is not something that any festival or public business interests or likes to do. But we all have to get involved as a country in order to do the best for us all and to move forward. “

The postponement of the Covid protocols is in line with the recommendations of epidemiologists advising to overlay preventive measures such as masks, social distancing and frequent testing of asymptomatic people in addition to vaccinations. “It is a significant public health risk to host music festivals that do not take other precautions such as social distancing or the use of face masks,” said Dr. Bruce Y Lee, Executive Director of Cunys Public Health Informatics Computational and Operations Research and a Professor at the Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. A multi-pronged approach will help contain the spread of the virus and will free up critical time to protect hospitals, keep schools open and vaccinate more people.

“When you’ve got so many people talking and singing, from different households and geographical areas, you should be on the safe side,” said Dr. Bertha Hidalgo, genetic epidemiologist and professor at the School of Public Health at. from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The possible broadcast is not limited to the concert itself; Visitors could spread the virus on their way to and from the festival, in toilets or on-site shops, or in hotels. “There are many areas and opportunities for exposure beyond what can happen at the festival outdoors,” said Hidalgo.

Vaccinated concertgoers are less about death or serious illness – most breakthrough infections, which are very rare, result in a mild cold or flu-like symptoms; the death rate from infection with the vaccine is “effectively zero”, according to a recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Rather, it is the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant among partially vaccinated communities that could overwhelm hospitals and nursing staff and jeopardize the development of new variants.

Not all festivals respond to transmission risks with new protocols. Held in Cullman, Alabama this weekend, Pepsi’s Rock the South is expected to draw nearly 30,000 people in for performances by big country stars like 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. The festival’s website does not currently list harsh Covid restrictions, although there are reports that masks and hand sanitizer will be available. (Rock the South organizers, 46 Entertainment and Premier Productions, were unavailable for comment.)

Luke Combs will perform at Rock the South.Luke Combs will perform at Rock the South. Photo: Mark Humphrey / AP

Rock the South founder and organizer Shane Quick said on the Outbreak Alabama podcast this week that attendees should be vaccinated “if you are concerned.” Quick added that his family and festival organizers have been vaccinated, but the festival itself does not advocate vaccination. “You know, in this state, in this part of the world, people don’t respond well when they are told what to do,” he said. “You have to let people make their own decisions.”

The question shouldn’t be personal safety, said Dr. Mike Levy, professor of epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, the Guardian. “This is a public health issue. Should these communities allow these events to happen when the spread that is likely to occur in these events occurs outside of the events?

“This is not about the personal risk of going to and getting a dangerous outside transmission event,” Levy said. “Probably nobody will die at these concerts, but they will take it home and someone’s grandparents will die.”

From now on the show will continue for most festivals. RocNation’s Perez said Made in America would happen on Labor Day unless the city of Philadelphia declares otherwise. “If the city decreed that we couldn’t open for health reasons, we would of course respect that,” she said. “But if not, we will continue.”

On Thursday, Chicago’s top doctor, Dr. Allison Arwady reported that 203 cases of Covid-19 have been linked to Lollapalooza with no hospital admissions or deaths – a figure she described as “not unexpected” and which provided “no evidence” that the festival was a super-spreader- Occurrence.

Festivals like Rock the South and Made in America “have the potential to be conducted safely,” said Hidalgo, “provided they put in place science-based protocols,” such as vaccination, masking, and crowds.

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