Successes with experimental concerts in Spain and Germany have convinced Dr. Anthony Fauci that big shows could return to the U.S. this fall -- provided Americans reach an effective level of herd immunity.
“I think you can start getting back to almost full capacity of seating,” the nation's top infectious disease expert said during a virtual live event over the weekend.
“What the performing arts needs to do is to do a little bit more of what the Germans are doing,” Fauci noted.
A controlled experiment in Germany featuring a show by pop singer Tim Bendzko safely accommodated about 1,400 attendees – most of them volunteers – because of several specific safety precautions, researchers at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg reported.
The risk of infection at the show was “low to very low” because of good ventilation, strict hygiene rules and a limited crowd, they said. Attendees also wore masks.
Meanwhile, scientists in Spain reported no infections following a similar experiment in Barcelona last month that drew 463 attendees.
Among the requirements, attendees (who were between 18 and 59) had to sign forms attesting that they weren’t infected, hadn’t tested positive in two weeks and don’t live with elderly people.
Each of them was screened and given an N95 mask at the show that had to be worn when attendees weren’t “actively” sipping beverages.
Everyone had to follow a traffic flow directed by arrows and security personnel. Ventilation in the hall also was optimized and exiting to a limited-area patio for smoking was staggered.
The controlled-experiment attendees were swabbed eight days after the show. All 463 tested negative, the researchers said.
“Hopefully this data will pave the way to save live concerts during the COVID pandemic,” their report says.
The preliminary results have the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases excited about the future of live music.
Fall is a reasonable target for filling large venues again “if everything goes right,” Fauci said during a virtual event with the Association of Performing Arts Professionals.
That includes more than just masks, reasonable distancing, good ventilation and proper air filters, however.
A minimum of 70% percent of Americans – and optimally as much as 85% -- must be vaccinated first, Fauci emphasized.
“If everything goes right, this is will occur some time in the fall of 2021,” he said, “so that by the time we get to the early to mid-fall you can have people feeling safe performing onstage, as well as people in the audience.”
If that does happen, Fauci said, mandatory masks and reasonable social distancing will be part of the experience for the foreseeable future.
Although the live music industry took a crippling hit, several venues could still be operating come fall thanks to the federal Save Our Stages Act, funded with $15 billion in relief to various clubs, theaters, arenas and other venues that have been closed since last March.
“We’ll be back in the theaters,” a confident Fauci proclaimed. “Performers will be performing, audiences will be enjoying it. It will happen.”
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