Story at a glance

  • Events with large crowds, such as concerts, have been cancelled due to the concern over coronavirus transmission.
  • While the music industry has experimented with socially distanced outdoor concerts, indoor concerts involve greater risk.
  • A preprint that has not yet been peer reviewed suggests that certain measures can lower the risk of coronavirus transmission.

There’s a lot of things to miss about the time before COVID-19, and most of them include crowds of people. For music lovers, it’s that unique experience of bonding with complete strangers over art and a little bit of sweat. But will it ever be safe to have them again?

A new preprint by German researchers suggests it will, as long as organizers take all of the recommended safety precautions — and attendees follow them. And if you’ve ever been to a concert, you know the caveat is not insignificant. 

A disclaimer: The preprint has not yet been peer reviewed, meaning that the results haven't been replicated or reviewed, nor the model used in the experiment. But these sorts of studies can help guide future research — and give concertgoers just a touch of hope. 


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To learn more about the risks, researchers held a concert of their own, a test event in Leipzig, Germany, where the coronavirus pandemic has rebounded and the government has ordered a second lockdown

All the participants and staff tested negative for the coronavirus within two days of the event and wore N95 masks. The arena was divided into three different scenarios, one with no restrictions, one with moderate social distancing restrictions and one with strict restrictions. The results were promising, suggesting "low to very low" effect on the spread of coronavirus under specific conditions: adequate ventilation, strict hygiene protocols, social distancing and limited capacity. 

“There is no argument for not having such a concert,” Michael Gekle, part of the team at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg who conducted the study, said in an interview. “The risk of getting infected is very low.”  


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While there was a lot of contact between attendees during entry and halftime, most of the interactions were less than 15 minutes long — which public health experts have offered as a general guideline for when exposure becomes most risky. As you might expect, those in the section with no restrictions had more contact with others than those observing strict social distancing guidelines. While the physical risks were low, the study concludes, the risk of airborne exposure was higher than expected.  

Still, replicating the controls implemented in the experiment exactly would be difficult, Gabriel Scally, president of epidemiology and public health at the Royal Society of Medicine, told the New York Times, and many venues would require major renovations to bring their ventilation systems up to date. 

While vaccines are still the most promising protection against the coronavirus, the experiment shows that the guidelines recommended by public health experts work — if you follow them. 


WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CORONAVIRUS RIGHT NOW

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Published on Nov 06, 2020