by: Will DuPree
AUSTIN (KXAN) — On the same day the Austin City Limits Music Festival announced which artists will perform this year, a new report came out Tuesday to share suggestions about how organizers can hold large events safely during future COVID-19 waves.
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin’s COVID-19 Modeling Consortium along with local public health experts worked together on an analysis of how different safeguards, like a masking or testing requirement, could affect the risk of infection at two types of events. They wrote that their report is describing “a risk assessment framework to support event planning during COVID-19 waves.”
The team’s findings should not come as too much of a surprise, though, because they reinforce how beneficial testing before entry, proof of vaccination, masking and holding things outside can be even when the spread of the coronavirus is lower in the community.
The researchers said they looked at two hypothetical events set a month apart in Austin:
- A business conference with 3,000 attendees held on Sept. 1, 2021.
- An outdoor festival with 50,000 attendees happening Oct. 1 last year.
They said they found that requiring people to get a COVID-19 test before the event would better prevent more from arriving sick over solely having everyone provide proof of vaccination. In the business conference study, for instance, they said having people test 48 hours prior to it would result in an estimated 20 attendees arriving infected, while a vaccination requirement would result in an expected 30 people arriving with COVID-19.
“Shortening the testing window to 24 hours prior to the event would reduce risks even further,” the report stated.
Their findings also highlighted how multiple strategies would better prevent COVID-19 transmission at events. When they looked at the outdoor festival hypothetical, requiring people to test, vaccinate and wear a face mask would have reduced the number of infections stemming from the event in the four weeks afterward from 895 to 120.
The research also concluded events held outdoors would be safer than indoor events. The team pointed out that even though the hypothetical festival was more than 10 times the size of the imaginary business conference, “we estimate that it will produce only double the number of infections within the community during and following the event.”
Researchers hope these findings, along with more detailed breakdown of the scenarios they examined, can provide a resource for organizers to check when they’re strategizing about how to keep people from getting sick at events.
However, they admit, “Our framework makes a number of critical assumptions that may not hold for all events, especially as SARS-CoV-2 and our arsenal of medical countermeasures continues to evolve.”
It’s unclear what, if any, COVID-19 protocols will be put in place at this year’s ACL Music Festival. During last year’s event, fans had to either show proof of full vaccination or provide a negative COVID-19 test before entering the festival grounds. Austin public health experts said they could only connect a total of 36 COVID-19 cases to ACL last year.
After the city wrapped up its first in-person South by Southwest since the pandemic began, experts said they traced roughly 100 COVID-19 cases to the March event.
Austin and Travis County are currently considered at a low level of risk for COVID-19, which does not recommend masking for anyone. Earlier this year in March, Austin Public Health announced it would no longer use numbered stages and instead follow the CDC’s low, medium and high risk-based model to indicate where the coronavirus situation stands locally.