Seeing your favorite band or sports team play can be a risky adventure during the current COVID-19 surge.
Nonetheless, there are some ways you can protect yourself from contracting a serious case of COVID-19 if you decide to go to a large public gathering.
As vaccination rates rose and COVID-19 infection rates slowed earlier this year, lockdowns eased and more large public events were permitted to go forward.
However, the recent widespread prevalence of the Delta variant increases the risk of attending mass gatherings, particularly indoors, according to Dr. Adam Brown, the chief impact officer and COVID-19 Task Force chair at Envision Healthcare, a national medical group.
“For individuals who are unvaccinated, large indoor gatherings continue to be a very high risk activity, especially if those individuals are not wearing a mask,” Brown told Healthline.
Dr. Aimee Ferraro, a public health and epidemiology professor at Walden University in Minneapolis, said that being in a large crowd poses a higher risk of infection, both indoors and outdoors.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notesTrusted Source that “the largest droplets [of the novel coronavirus] settle out of the air rapidly, within seconds to minutes. The smallest very fine droplets, and aerosol particles formed when these fine droplets rapidly dry, are small enough that they can remain suspended in the air for minutes to hours.”
Ferraro noted the spread of the virus outdoors can also depend on the wind, especially in settings where people are close together and singing or shouting.
“There’s a close mixing of tens of thousands of people you don’t know and who you don’t know if they are infected or not,” Ferraro told Healthline.
Several large gatherings have been linked to significant COVID-19 outbreaks.
The 2020 Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota, held prior to the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and with little physical distancing or mask wearing, resulted in an increase of between 6 and 12 percent in COVID-19 cases in the home counties with the largest number of rally attendees, according to researchTrusted Source published in December 2020.
Regardless, the 2021 Sturgis rally went on as planned this month even as the Delta variant spread across the United States. More than 500,000 people attended this year’s event, which ended on August 15.
Only 37 percent of residents in Meade County, where the rally was held, are vaccinated against COVID-19.
In Chicago, the recent 4-day Lollapalooza festival attracted 385,000 people. Chicago health officials said that at least 203 cases of COVID-19 had been traced to the event, despite the fact that attendees had to show either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. About 90 percent of attendees to the concerts had been vaccinated.
Chicago officials did say the rate of new cases from Lollapalooza was comparatively low and that the concert was not considered a major vector for the spread of COVID-19.
In Mississippi, the recent Neshoba County Fair may have contributed to a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
The county, which like all of Mississippi has a low rate of vaccination (36 percent statewide), now has the highest per-capita rate of COVID-19 cases in the state.
Neshoba County hospitals are now dealing with a large influx of people with COVID-19.
Summer events on Cape Cod in Massachusetts have been linked to 469 cases of COVID-19, with about three-quarters of those among vaccinated individuals. Only four of the Cape Cod patients were hospitalized and none died.
How to help protect yourself
While the shows have gone on, there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk at concerts, sports venues, and other events attended by thousands of people.
The CDC advisesTrusted Source event organizers to keep people who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 at least 6 feet apart from each other when indoors, as well as to encourage mask wearing and handwashing.
“Indoor spaces are riskier than outdoor spaces because it can be harder to maintain physical distancing indoors and viral particles disperse more easily outdoors than indoors,” according to the CDC.
However, Ferraro notes that “even though ostensibly there are safer spaces outdoors, there are still places where transmission is possible,” including bathrooms, portable toilets, hallways, and enclosed venue concourses.
Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best way to protect yourself if you plan to attend a large event, Ferraro said. In fact, many event organizers are now requiring attendees to be vaccinated or show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
“Wear an N95 or KN95 mask, especially at these big events,” she added. “Stay away from enclosed spaces or minimize your time there. And minimize your time spent with people you don’t know.”
If the venue has a grassy area, watch from there instead of from the crowd in front of the stage, said Ferraro.
Use hand sanitizer frequently at the show, she added, and get yourself tested 3 days afterward to ensure that you have not contracted the virus.
Whether you should attend a show depends upon your personal risk tolerance and other factors, said Ferraro.
“It’s not for me,” she said. “I can watch another Zoom concert for one more year until things settle down. This is still out of control and the Delta variant makes it worse than last year.”