New COVID Outbreaks Traced To Recent Outdoor Concerts

by Madison Vanderberg
Erika Goldring/Getty Images

New COVID-19 outbreaks linked to all-outdoors music festivals and yikes

The general rule of thumb when it came to COVID-19 was that outside was safer. Suddenly, picnics were all the rage and everyone was into walking and hiking again. Unfortunately, now with the return of large events and the spread of the Delta variant, the outdoors isn’t the completely safe haven we once thought as two recent COVID outbreaks have been linked to outdoor summer music festivals. Sadly, we are not totally out of the woods and superspreader events are still possible.

Thanks to contact tracing, it’s possible to learn when an event has become a superspreader situation. Authorities in Oregon are looking at 62 cases tied to July 10th’s Pendleton Whisky Music Fest in Pendleton, Oregon. And in Michigan, at least 96 cases can be traced to the Faster Horses Festival, which took place in Brooklyn, Michigan over the July 16th weekend.

The good news (if there is one in an article about a “COVID outbreak”) is that the people who contracted the virus at one concert were all tightly packed in together — by choice — near the front of the stage. The takeaway here is that even when you’re outdoors you should still observe social distancing and maybe not pack in shoulder-to-shoulder.

At the Pendleton festival, which saw 10,000 fans, most of the transmission occurred in the crowded area near the stage. “Not all, but the majority of cases have been traced to the party pit area,” Umatilla County, Oregon, Public Health Director Joe Fiumara said in a statement (via Rolling Stone). “There was a lot of area provided, but folks were pretty close together.”

Though experts agree that outdoors is safer than indoors when it comes to COVID-19 transmission, “If you’re outside and you’re packed in with someone, it’s getting closer to being like an indoor environment, where you have really high aerosol exposure from the person that’s a foot from you, or even inches from you,” aerosol scientist Alex Huffman, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Denver, told RS.

It’s too soon to know if it became a superspreader event, but last weekend Twitter was aghast at the crowds at Chicago’s Lollapalooza over the July 30th weekend.

It’s important to note that neither the Pendleton Whisky Music Fest or the Faster Horses Festival required proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to attend. Currently, various independent businesses and venues across the U.S. have started requiring proof of vaccination for entry and New York City will require vax cards for all indoor venues starting next month — however, this bit of news makes it seem like people should be showing vax cards for ALL major events, indoors AND outdoors.