Indoor Concerts with Proper Safety Measures Pose Low Risk of COVID-19, German Study Claims

Other researchers, however, are skeptical of the findings
Indoor Concerts with Proper Safety Measures Pose Low Risk of COVID-19, German Study Claims
Photo: Lindsay Duncan
Despite COVID-19 cases surging now more than ever, a newly published German study is claiming that indoor concerts in fact pose a low risk of spreading the virus. But — and this is a big "but" — only if organizers take the proper safety precautions. And even then, other researches aren't so sure about the study's seemingly positive findings.

Titled "The Risk of Indoor Sports and Culture Events for the Transmission of COVID-19 (Restart-19)," the study found that the risk of spreading COVID-19 at large indoor events is "low to very low" if there's good ventilation, strict hygiene rules and a limited audience.

One of the study's authors, Dr. Michael Gekle even said, "There is no argument for not having such a concert. The risk of getting infected is very low."

As the New York Times points out, however, you might not want to get too excited just yet. The German study has yet to be peer-reviewed, with some experts already expressing skepticism about the results.

While critics have called the findings "useful," they have stated that the study not only needed to still be reviewed but also replicated, and that more information was needed about how the German researchers used the modeling.

In August, the researchers at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg conducted the Restart 19 study, which focused on a concert by the German pop singer Tim Bendzko in a large arena in Leipzig, the New York Times reported at the time.

For the study, the concert was only filled to a fraction of its total capacity, with 1,400 study volunteers in attendance. Each attendee was outfitted with a mask, digital location tracker and hand disinfectant laced with fluorescent dye.

They were then carefully positioned on seats for the researcher to try to learn the risks of COVID-19 in large, indoor events like concerts. All volunteers were also tested for the coronavirus before participating and had their temperatures checked upon arrival.

The attendees were asked to simulate different concert scenarios over the course of 10 hours: one with no social distancing, another with moderate safety measures and a third with strict safety measures.

The researchers found that the contact between attendees was the highest when there was a break between sets, as people used these as opportunities to get food and drinks, as well as go to the bathroom.

From the fluorescent disinfectant given the attendees, the researchers tracked and examined which surfaces they touched during the concert. They also used a fog machine to help calculate the potential spread of aerosol droplets, as well as how much ventilation was needed.

They did not, however, examine the effect talking may have. In some countries that are currently hosting indoor concerts, such as Japan, talking is prohibited to prevent aerosols from building within the venue and potentially spreading the virus. 

From the German study, the researchers came out with a handful of recommendations for hosting safe indoor concerts. These include installing new ventilation systems that effectively refresh the air in the venue, enforcing attendees to wear masks, implementing seated food and drink breaks, and making sure attendees can enter and exit the venue from multiple points.