Is It Safe to Go to an Outdoor Concert? Here's What Experts Say About Your COVID Risk
Concerns about the Delta variant are making everyone more cautious.
In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 could essentially start living their lives again, and plenty did.
But with the CDC tweaking its guidance to say that people who are fully vaccinated against the virus need to be more cautious—including wearing a mask indoors in areas where spread of the virus is substantial or high—it's hard to know what is and isn't considered safe to do. Like, are outdoor concerts safe, or should you be wary of going to one right now?
The CDC still says that, in general, people don't need to wear masks when they're outside. But outdoor concerts can get pretty crowded, so what to do to protect yourself from COVID there is confusing. Before you buy that concert ticket, listen to what infections disease experts have to say.
First, a recap on current mask-wearing recommendations
Given that this has been modified a few times, it never hurts to get a refresh on where things stand right now. If you're not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the CDC recommends that you wear a mask in indoor public places—and that advice applies to all unvaccinated Americans over the age of two. (Remember, too, that the COVID-19 vaccines aren't yet authorized for kids under the age of 12.)
If you are fully vaccinated, the CDC suggests wearing a mask in indoor public settings in areas where the rate of COVID-19 spread is "substantial or high." (You can check online to see where your area falls.) If you're immunocompromised or if you take medications that weaken your immune system, the CDC also recommends wearing a mask indoors, regardless of the level of COVID-19 cases in your area.
What's happening with COVID-19 in the country now?
In early summer, the data suggested we we were turning a corner with the pandemic, but that's all changed with the rise of the Delta variant. This variant now causes more than 82.2% of COVID-19 cases in the US, according to CDC data, and it's spreading rapidly. Case in point: In late May, it was only responsible for 3.1% of COVID-19 cases in the US. Now, it's causing the vast majority of cases.
COVID-19 cases are starting to spike in the country again after hitting low levels in June. On July 31, there were 26,922 new COVID-19 cases detected, per CDC data, and there's a clear upward trend in new cases that's continuing. Particularly hard-hit areas include those with low vaccination rates, like Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.
So is it safe to go to an outdoor concert?
It depends. While the CDC says that being outdoors is a safer choice when you're around people who don't live with you, the agency also urges people to try to stay at least six feet apart and limit how much time you spend around others—stuff that's pretty hard to do at a crowded outdoor concert.
"These types of decisions depend upon individual risk tolerance," infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Health. "There is no one-size-fits-all answer."
In general, if you're vaccinated, you should be "less concerned" about an outdoor concert "because even if you get a breakthrough infection, it's likely to be mild," Dr. Adalja says. "For the unvaccinated, the Delta variant will likely be present at the concert and infect you," he adds.
Overall, though, "the Delta variant has added a little bit of uncertainty about outdoor transmission," Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Health. "It's possible that since people shed so much more virus with this variant that it may increase the risk of transmission in outdoor settings," he says.
How to be safe at an outdoor concert
Knowing what's happening with COVID-19 in the area can be helpful, for starters. While the CDC says that you generally don't need to wear a mask outside, the agency also adds this caveat online: "In areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, consider wearing a mask in crowded outdoor settings and for activities with close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated." Bigger outdoor concerts can bring in people from all over the country, so the local spread may not necessarily reflect your actual risk of exposure, Dr. Russo says. But if your favorite local band is playing in the park, local COVID-19 numbers should be pretty reflective of your risk.
If you can spread out from people outside your household at an outdoor concert and you're vaccinated, Dr. Russo says you should be just fine. "But if you're all sitting in chairs right next to each other, it's a different scenario," he says.
In crowded situations, Dr. Russo says that safest thing to do is to wear a mask. "Wearing a mask is prudent at this time, particularly if you're immunocompromised or unvaccinated," Dr. Russo says.
Even if you're able to spread out during the show, you'll want to mask up when you go to packed spots like the bathroom and food and beverage line, Dr. Russo says.
Some concerts, like Lollapalooza, have required people to show proof of vaccination status or results from a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the event, which Dr. Russo says may make things somewhat safer. "If everyone is vaccinated, it obviously makes it much safer—the majority of cases are in the unvaccinated," he says. "But the 72-hour rule for a negative COVID test is not so hot. That's a long period of time."
Finally, you'll want to take your own health status into consideration. "If you are somebody that is immunosuppressed, you may want to wear a mask even if you are vaccinated—especially in those areas where you cannot social distance," Dr. Adalja says.
Overall, experts say, if you want to be as safe as possible at a crowded outdoor concert, wear a mask.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.
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