Photograph by David Allen

Concerts remain risky despite venue policies

ON NOV. 8, Harry Styles will bring his Gucci bell-bottoms and arena-shaking energy to the Rose Quarter’s MODA Center during his American leg of “Love on Tour.” Arguably the hottest ticket in town, with seats starting at $150, Styles’ Portland stop could bring in as many as 19,000 fans. Yet, as Multnomah County averages 144 new COVID-19 cases per day, Pioneers could be chasing the watermelon sugar high right into a superspreader event. 

The MODA Center, which will also host opera tenor Andrea Bocelli and country-pop duo Dan + Shay this fall, claims to have adapted well to pandemic conditions. Masks are required, including in parking garages, and attendees can upload their Center for Disease Control or World Health Organization-approved vaccination card online at Visitors can also show their vaccination card, or a picture of it, at the door.

Still, the unvaccinated can enter the arena, provided they have a negative PCR or lab-based rapid test result within 72 hours. Children under 12 can attend sans documentation, but they cannot sit within 15 feet of the court at a Trail Blazers game without proof of a negative test.   

The MODA Center is located in the 97227 zip code, where a whopping 79% of the population is vaccinated. That does not mean, however, that 79% of attendees are vaccinated, since MODA attracts visitors from areas all over both Washington and Oregon. At the time of publication, vaccination averages for both these states hovered around 62%. 

In January 2021 Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was cautiously optimistic. 

“By the time we get to the early to mid-fall, you can have people feeling safe onstage as well as people in the audience,” Fauci said to the Association of Performing Arts Professionals. 

The Chief Medical Advisor to President Biden has since changed his tune, in part due to the Delta variant. 

“We’ve got to concentrate on continuing to get these numbers down, and not try to jump ahead by weeks or months and say what we’re going to do at a particular time,” Fauci said on CBS News Sunday Morning.  

Other medical experts, like Dr. Evan Sylvester, Swedish Medical Center’s regional director of infection prevention, echoed Dr. Fauci’s note of caution about large venues. 

“Large gatherings indoors while we experience this surge give me pause even with these (mask and vaccine) policies in place,” Sylvester said to the Seattle Times in late August. “Negative COVID tests only capture a moment in time and should not be relied on solely to keep people safe.” 

Like the MODA Center, McMenamins Crystal Ballroom allows guests to bypass the vaccination requirement with a negative PCR COVID test within 72 hours. The venue on West Burnside St., which will host indie rock sensation beabadoobee and synth-pop band Bleachers later this fall, also requires guests to wear masks, except when eating or drinking. 

“Before you pull your mask down to take a sip … step away if you’re in a large crowd,” Sylvester said. 

As COVID-19 spreads via aerosol droplets, concert-goers can make their own experience safer by pulling their mask down as little as possible, which might mean eating beforehand.  

Another strategy for reducing chances of transmission, only attending outdoor events, unfortunately failed this summer at Pendleton Whisky Music Fest headlined by country singer-songwriter Toby Keith. At least 62 COVID-19 cases were tied to the July event in Oregon’s Umatilla County, with a majority traced to the pit area. 

“Any ‘surprise’ (about Pendleton) shows we still need to educate that viral aerosols can also easily infect at short distances outdoors — esp. if you are inches from another screaming concert-goer!” tweeted University of Denver aerosol scientist Alex Huffman. 

As the Delta variant surges among the unvaccinated and scientists discover more about how the virus spreads, it seems that Pioneers are still not, in the words of Styles himself, “so golden.”

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