Crowded Lollapalooza music festival could bring cascade of Covid cases, experts warn

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Amy Harris/Invision/AP</span>
Photograph: Amy Harris/Invision/AP

The Lollapalooza music festival in downtown Chicago will probably cause a surge in Covid-19 infections, said public health experts, after tens of thousands of people gathered there this past weekend.

The four-day festival welcomed about 100,000 guests a day to hear headliners including Megan Thee Stallion, Foo Fighters and Tyler the Creator.

To attend, people had to either provide a Covid-19 vaccine card or proof of a negative Covid-19 test from the previous 72 hours, but doctors said more restrictions should have been in place as the US tries to limit the spread of the more infectious Delta variant.

Infectious disease expert Dr Tina Tan said: “When you have 100,000 or more people who are in a fairly enclosed space and there’s no social distancing, the vast majority are not wearing masks, you are going to get some transmission of Covid-19 Delta variant.”

Chicago is averaging more than 200 new cases per day, a significant threshold identified by the city, though it is still far below the height of the pandemic. It could be two to three weeks before the effect of Lollapalooza on the city’s case rate is known, and there is also concern about people who visited the city for the festival spreading Covid at home.

“I know they were trying to hold Lollapalooza as safely as possible but I think with the increasing amount of Covid we’ve been seeing there should have been some other things that were put into place,” said Tan, a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Tan said she was especially concerned that children under 12, who cannot get vaccinated, were at the festival and said there should have at least been a mask mandate.

At this point in the pandemic, Tan said the only safe way to hold such a large music festival would be to do it virtually. To hold a similar event in-person safely, she said the crowd would have to be smaller, social distancing would need to be enforced, there would need to be a mask mandate and only vaccinated people could attend.

In response to concerns raised in the weeks leading up to the event, Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, said at a press conference on Sunday that millions of people had already attended events this summer in Chicago, including major league baseball games and smaller music festivals.

“We’ve been able to open but do it with care because of the vaccinations,” she said. “So I feel very good about what we’ve done. Obviously, we’ll know a little bit more in a week to 10 days. But we have to keep pushing the fact that the unvaccinated are the people that are at risk.”

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On Thursday, Lollapalooza officials said 90% of the estimated 100,000 people who attended that day showed proof of vaccination. The festival also said it turned away 600 people who did not have the correct paperwork.

But vaccinated people can still transmit the virus and vaccination cards and test results can be forged.

Vashon Jordan Jr, a photo intern for the Chicago Tribune, covered the festival and said that fake Covid-19 vaccination cards were being used there. The Chicago division of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) had earlier warned using fake vaccination cards was illegal and could be penalized with “hefty fines and prison time”.

Jordan Jr also documented crowds of people leaving the festival and using public transportation without wearing masks, where they were required.

Lightfoot and the city’s public health commissioner, Dr Allison Arwady, faced multiple questions last week about the risk of holding the festival. “I’m certainly hopeful that we won’t see a significant problem,” Arwady told reporters.

Lightfoot dismissed a warning by one of Chicago’s top coronavirus experts, Dr Emily Landon, that “lots of people” could get Covid-19 at Lollapalooza. Landon, the executive medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Chicago Medicine, told NBC Chicago last week that the festival could cause “wildfires of infection” across the country.

“God bless the critics standing on the sidelines, but I feel confident that the Lolla folks have a good solid plan in place,” Lightfoot said.

The Illinois governor, JB Pritzker, was more hesitant and reversed his plans to attend Lollapalooza, citing concerns about rising Covid-19 infections in the state.

Chicago Sun Times columnist Laura Washington said in a column published Sunday that with the festival over, questions remain about how effective the festival’s Covid-19 restrictions were. But, she said, one question was easy to answer.

“One final question: why was Lollapalooza allowed to go forward?” Washington wrote. “That one is easy. It’s about the money, honey.”

Lollapalooza’s parent company, Live Nation, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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