Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Back in August Germany performed a study to help plan how to stage concerts safely. Even though I don’t go to concerts often, this is a subject dear to my heart because I do miss singing with my choral group the Festival Singers. Besides, bringing back concerts can be an opening for bringing back all the large-group events people love, like sports, theater, and group worship. Last week results of the study were published in Rolling Stone and The New York Times.

The actual report, “The Risk of Indoor Sports and Culture Events for the Transmission of COVID-19 (Restart-19)” can be found at https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.10.28.20221580v1.full.pdf . It is not yet peer reviewed. However, I’ll be happy to summarize.

Organized by the University Medical Center of Halle, Restart-19 was designed to map the transmission of COVID-19 in a concert or sport type setting using three scenarios (https://restart19.de/en/). 1212 volunteers got to hear Berlin singer-songwriter Tim Bendzko perform in three concert events at the Leipzig Arena. ( Curious? Hear Tim Bendzko sing at https://www.timbendzko.de/).

Since all the scenarios had to be approved by German health regulations under the pandemic, it was not a “back to normal” simulation. The volunteers had to wear an approved (N95) mask, use hand sanitizer, and be tested for Covid within 48 hours of the concert.

The three scenarios were:

  1. A “prepandemic type” concert with no social distancing.
  2. A concert with twice as many entrances and “checkerboard pattern” seating.
  3. A concert with four times as many entrances and a smaller audience, seated in pairs, each pair 5 feet apart.

Data was collected by: electronic tracker which each person wore around their neck to identify movements and length of exposures, a fluorescent dye in the hand sanitizer to identify what people touched, and fog devices to simulate the flow of aerosols. Each concert included entering, first half, simulated catering, second half, and exiting.

The contact tracking devices found many short contacts (less than 10 seconds) but fewer than 10 contacts greater than 15 minutes in scenarios 2 and 3. 15 minutes is based on the length of exposure defined in contact tracing. Most people said they got used to the masks fairly quickly. The criteria for good air flow, important to avoiding exposure to aerosols, are discussed in the study.

The researchers make a series of recommendations including effective ventilation technology, seated intermissions for refreshment breaks, wearing masks, and multiple entrances. Their conclusion was: “Seated indoor events, when conducted under hygiene precautions and with adequate ventilation, have small effects on the spread of COVID-19.” Similar projects are planned in other countries, including Australia, Belgium, and Denmark.

Even before Covid-19 mass gathering events or MGE’s were known to be high risk for infectious diseases. In December, 2011, the WHO issued a report on the public health risks due to infectious disease and inadequate sanitation inherent in large gatherings. This led to improved health conditions at high-profile international events such as the 2016 Rio Olympics held during a Zika epidemic and the FIFA World Cup held in South Africa during an H1N1 influenza epidemic. Based on these successes, an article published in The Lancet in March 2020 recommends evaluation of planning and mitigation strategies for the specific challenges of Covid-19. The German study addresses these points.

Mass gatherings are not only entertainment but constitute an important part of the economy in many countries. So many events have been cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic–from the Tokyo Olympics to the Rose Parade in Pasadena. So many conventions, performances, and sports events. Hopefully studies like the one in Leipzig will lead to reasonable mitigation measures that will enable us to put concerts back on the calendar.

Referenced Sources:

“Could Germany’s COVID concert experiment help arenas hold large events again?” DW, Aug. 23, 2020. https://www.dw.com/en/could-germanys-covid-concert-experiment-help-arenas-hold-large-events-again/a-54661902

“German Experiment Tests How The Coronavirus Spreads At A Concert,” NPR, August 24, 2020. https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/08/24/905534790/german-experiment-tests-how-coronavirus-spreads-at-a-concert

“Mass gathering events and reducing further global spread of COVID-19: a political and public health dilemma,” The Lancet, April 4, 2020. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140673620306814/fulltext

“Global mass gatherings: implications and opportunities for global health security, World Health Organization (WHO), Dec. 22, 2011. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/23751/B130_17-en.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. It is my intention to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary crisis.

You are on History’s Edge.

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