German Study On Indoor Concerts During Pandemic Yields Hopeful Data

Researchers in Germany who set out to determine exactly how risky indoor concerts are during the COVID-19 pandemic have some positive findings for frustrated music and sports fans.

An analysis of data from an indoor concert experiment staged this past August in Leipzig, Germany, as part of the study suggests that the impact of such events on spread of the novel coronavirus could be "low to very low," provided organizers ensure good ventilation, enact strict hygiene protocols and limit capacity to allow for social distancing among the audience.

"There is no argument for not having such a concert," Dr. Michael Gekle, dean of medical faculty at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg and a team member on the study, said in an interview following the release of the findings. "The risk of getting infected is very low."

The study has been made available online, but has not been peer reviewed yet.

About 1,500 participants attended three simulated concerts by singer-songwriter Tim Bendzko during the 10-hour experiment.

Participants were not distanced in one scenario, partially distanced in a checkerboard formation in a second and strictly distanced in a third. All were required to test negative for the novel coronavirus 48 hours before the event, have their temperatures checked before entering the venue and wear masks throughout the experiment.

Researchers also used a fog machine to observe movement of air inside the venue and calculate exposure to aerosol droplets. They found that social distancing significantly decreased exposure to aerosols. Dr. Gekle said his team was surprised to learn how crucial ventilation is to limiting exposure to the virus.

The study, called RESTART-19, marked the first time people in Germany were allowed inside an arena for a concert since the country banned large gatherings due to the pandemic in the spring.

Germany drew praise early on in the pandemic for its response to the virus, though case numbers in the country have risen recently, as they have throughout Europe.

Critics of the study say the experiment didn't accurately create real concert conditions, where people are drinking alcohol and singing without wearing masks. Participants in the study were not allowed to drink alcohol during the experiment.

After the concert portion of the study concluded, Gekle told CNN that his team's goal was to "give politicians a tool in order to decide rationally where to allow such an event or not. That means that have to have the tool to predict how many additional infected people such an event will produce."

Photo: Getty Images