Masks off at concerts: Is it COVID-19 safe?

Music fest promoters drop vaccination and masking requirements

Photo: Outdoors generally is safer than indoors when it comes to transmission of the COVID-19 virus. But, says UCLA Health's Dr. Annabelle De St. Maurice, “Certainly the risk of transmission increases when you’re crowded together more.” UCLA Health will have a hydration booth set up at the Stagecoach festival April 29-May 1.

At the Stagecoach music festival this year, you can party like it’s 2019.

Organizers of the Coachella and Stagecoach festivals dropped COVID-19 vaccination, testing and masking requirements at the concerts at the Empire Polo Club in Indio. It began with Coachella, April 15, and continues with Stagecoach, April 29-May 1.

The Coachella and Stagecoach festivals were canceled in 2020 and 2021 because of COVID-19. The entry requirements for 2022 are the same as they were in 2019, before the pandemic began.

COVID-19 antigen testing, however, is being offered onsite at Indian Wells Tennis Garden and the nearby camping area.

Added risk

Stagecoach’s website warns that “there is an inherent and elevated risk of exposure to COVID-19 in any public place or place where people are present and there is no guarantee, express or implied, that those attending the festival will not be exposed to COVID-19.” It goes on to say that festival guests “voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure” to the virus.

But how risky is it, given events are mostly outdoors?

“The biggest risks are for those who are unvaccinated and unboosted,” says Annabelle De St. Maurice, MD, MPH, co-chief infection prevention officer for UCLA Health. “We do know that the vaccines continue to protect against severe illness, so for those who are fully vaccinated and boosted, the risk is a lot lower.”

Events held inside enclosed tents present greater risk of COVID-19 transmission than those held in open-air tents or outdoors, she adds.

Dr. Annabelle De St. Maurice

Still, outdoor gatherings are not risk-free, even for fully vaccinated individuals. The virus can still be transmitted outside under certain circumstances, Dr. De St. Maurice says.

“Certainly the risk of transmission increases when you’re crowded together more,” she says. “And I imagine during these concerts, people are screaming and singing, so that also could increase the risk. Any type of vocalization may produce aerosols that can transmit the virus more easily.”

Avoiding COVID-19

Since social distancing is highly unlikely at a sold-out music festival, concert-goers’ best means of protection are through vaccination and mask use. Dr. De St. Maurice recommends choosing a well-fitting mask with high filtration capacity, such as N95 or KN95.

And it may not be too late to get vaccinated or boosted, she says.

While maximum efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine comes two weeks after completing the two-shot regimen or receiving a booster dose, some protection is provided even a week after a vaccine dose, Dr. De St. Maurice says.

“To get adequate protection from the vaccine, you need two doses,” she says. “And if it’s been more than five months since your last dose, it’s a good idea to get your booster before you go.”

Get the latest information on COVID-19 vaccines.