Coachella drops vaxx rules; Immunocompromised fans worry

On Tuesday, concert promoter Goldenvoice canceled all COVID-19 safety protocols for its country-themed Coachella and Stagecoach festivals in Indio in April.

Will Davis, a Coachella ticket holder in Costa Mesa with an immunocompromised woman, has attended every edition since 2009. Now he’s reconsidering.

“I generally think Goldenvoice does an amazing job handling all the logistics. But their decisions about this year’s festival seem confusing to me,” he said via email. “Why remove all the very standard COVID protections? My wife is immunocompromised and pregnant and I don’t know if I should go now even though I’m healthy and boosted.

Another immunocompromised Coachella ticket holder, Nicole H. of Cleveland (who asked not to use her full last name), said via email that she wishes Goldenvoice had been clearer that these changes could happen.

“I was and still am frustrated. I personally took steps to mitigate my risk, but they made it much harder to stay safe now.

For two years, COVID-19 has forced the live music industry to develop month-to-month (sometimes week-to-week) safety policies in response to the pandemic. In August, Goldenvoice’s parent company, AEG Presents, was one of the first promoters to institute a vaccination mandate for its shows, as live music began its hesitant return to clubs, amphitheaters and arenas.

But now Coachella and Stagecoach, both held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, have eliminated all COVID-19 safety protocols. Although policies may change closer to showtime, from Tuesday unvaccinated fans are welcome, no one will be asked to show a recent negative test result and there will be no mask requirement. .

“We are entering a complicated time,” said Anne Rimoin, professor of epidemiology at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health. “We are starting to see people fidgeting with public health measures. However, we still have viruses spreading around, so we still need to be thoughtful, careful, and able to pivot when needed. »

Coachella, with headliners such as Harry Styles, Billie Eilish and Kanye West (now Ye) is the music festival trend setter, and it’s sold out for the weekends of April 15-17 and April 22 to April 24, with 125,000 fans expected daily. Stagecoach, with headliners Thomas Rhett, Luke Combs and Carrie Underwood, is scheduled for April 29-May 1.

Representatives for Goldenvoice did not respond to requests for comment. A representative for AEG Presents declined to comment.

In August, AEG won praise when it mandated vaccinations for fans and staff at all concerts except where local laws prohibit it. “We came to the conclusion that as the market leader, it was up to us to take a real stand on the status of vaccination,” said Jay Marciano, CEO of AEG Presents at the time. “We realize some people might see this as a dramatic step, but it’s the right one.”

But on Tuesday, Stagecoach posted on social media that “As we prepare to spend an incredible weekend together in the desert, we are announcing that there will be no vaccination, testing or masking requirements. at Stagecoach 2022, in accordance with local guidelines.”

Coachella has also quietly eliminated its safety protocols, including an acknowledgment on its website that “there are no guarantees, expressed or implied, that festival attendees will not be exposed to Covid-19.”

The rules follow California’s requirements for outdoor mega-events, which as of Wednesday no longer include many indoor mask rules. Palm Springs, a popular destination for Coachella fans near Indio, will still require indoor masks in public.

The Riverside County Public Health Department said in a statement on Wednesday that he “will continue to support the precautions that protect members of the community, whether it is a small family gathering or a concert with tens of thousands of people. Large events with participants from all over the world pose a higher risk and we strongly recommend that those attending get vaccinated and wear a mask.

Kanye West, seen here performing his Easter Sunday service during Coachella in 2019, will be back to headline the festival in April.

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

Although cases have dropped precipitously in California and more than 70% of state residents have received two doses of vaccines, Coachella and Stagecoach are international festivals and draws from across the country. According to the CDC, only 92.2 million Americans have received a booster dose, and 18 to 39 year olds are late in receiving booster doses. The United States is still averaging more than 2,000 COVID-19 deaths per day, and community transmission remains “high” in nearly every state.

Rimoin said that as states and municipalities relax rules around gatherings and safety policies, “it will be up to the people who are going to assess their risk and the risk of the people they live with, and to act accordingly. result. If you are immunocompromised or have comorbidities, you simply cannot rely on [festival] organizers or the county to ensure your safety.

“Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you have to do it,” she added.

The festival industry is similarly assessing the risks of changing COVID-19 policies at a complicated time in the pandemic. Although outdoor festivals have not been major sources of transmission, the concert industry has been stymied by no-shows at events, whether out of fear of the Omicron variant or resistance to measures. attenuation.

Goldenvoice had postponed Coachella three times and swapped its entire headliner slate since first announcing its lineup in January 2020. As fans’ patience with restrictions wanes, even established rules can be more difficult to maintain.

“At the end of the day, it’s so difficult to enforce these mandates and restrictions, especially at an event as large as Coachella,” said Randy Phillips, the former general manager of AEG Presents. Phillips’ company recently produced the 70,000-capacity Kanye West/Drake concert at the LA Coliseum, which had a vaccine requirement, “but the enforcement problem is real,” he said. . “Stagecoach gets around 75,000 fans a day, and while one shouldn’t generalize, country music fans would probably be the least likely to follow mandates historically.

“Would I give up the vaccine mandate if I was still running AEG? Probably not,” Phillips said. “But for an outdoor festival, I could see the mask mandates dropping right now. The restrictions have an economic impact. I’m sure that was a consideration, especially at Stagecoach. You see 12-15% no-show rates at indoor gigs, and that’s huge.

However, the new free-for-all policies go beyond what other festivals are adopting, including at AEG’s other SoCal events. Cruel World and Just Like Heaven, two gothic and indie-leaning festivals slated for later this spring in Pasadena, currently require proof of vaccination or a recent negative test, according to their stated policies. South by Southwest in the Republican-run state of Texas will similarly require vaccinations or negative tests and masking for badge holders at most of its indoor events. Bonnaroo, Tennessee, said that for the June festival, “preventative health measures (e.g. proof of negative COVID-19 test or full COVID-19 vaccination, masks) may be required to this show. Details of any necessary measures will be communicated as soon as possible.” Meanwhile, Disneyland in Anaheim has lifted its mask requirements, but only for vaccinated guests (though the park admits it won’t check not close).

The policies of leading concert promoter Live Nation vary from state to state. “While specific requirements vary by location and event, some common measures may include, but are not limited to: proof of full vaccination against COVID-19, proof of a COVID-19 diagnostic test result 19 negative before entering the event, a quick on-site visit COVID-19 test, or participation in a brief health questionnaire,” according to its rules.

If global festivals like Glastonbury in the UK and Tomorrowland in Belgium follow Coachella’s lead, it could signal the end of festival organizers’ adherence to many COVID-19 safety policies, Phillips said.

“Coachella is the leader,” Phillips said. “People are a bit over COVID-19, and the only thing we hope is that it’s not premature. If there was ever an event where you can relax, this is probably the one.

Rimoin said an ability to react to changing conditions is just as important as putting any particular restriction in place right now. She was happy that at least Coachella and Stagecoach said they would adapt if COVID cases spiked again. (Their updates also stated that “the event must be presented in accordance with applicable public health conditions … these requirements may include, but are not limited to, changes in capacity, participation procedures and conditions of participation. entry, such as proof of vaccination and/or a negative COVID-19 test, and other protective measures such as requiring attendees to wear face coverings.”)

“The fact that they left the door open for the pivot is significant,” she said. “We don’t know where we will be in April. We have to be ready to put the masks back on and be more aggressive if we see another surge. »

Even though Goldenvoice is doing what is required by the state, some fans like Taylor — a 28-year-old ticket holder from Southern California — have questioned the promoter’s latest move.

“It is disappointing that they are choosing not to be leaders and to take all necessary and entirely feasible steps to not only protect the Coachella community, but also the surrounding desert communities of working class and resident residents. Hispanics,” said Taylor, who asked not to use their last name. “I understand that things are improving, but the pandemic is not over yet.

Nevertheless, Taylor will be present at Coachella. “I am fully vaccinated and boosted, so I feel good. But I will still take precautions.

Los Angeles Times

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