More than 1,500 fans attended a unique coronavirus concert in Germany, serving as metaphorical lab rats for researchers hoping to find methods to allow large scale events to return safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The performance by musician Tim Bendzko was staged to help achieve greater understanding of how the coronavirus spreads at big events, and therefore how best to prevent it.
Researchers hope that the data generated at the indoor concert will help speed the return of indoor events, including sports, which have been almost entirely halted due to the pandemic.
“We cannot afford another lockdown. We have to gather the data now in order to be able to make valid predictions,” University of Halle Professor Michael Gekle told CNN. “There is no zero risk if you want to have life. We want to give the politicians a tool in order to decide rationally whether to allow such an event or not. That means they have to have the tool to predict how many additional infected people such an event will produce.”
Originally, the concert had planned to study as many as 4,000 attendees to the indoor event, all of whom were volunteers. Researchers were said to be fine with the lower turnout, as it will still generate statistically significant results to build off of.
Those who attended were separated into three groups to study three scenarios – a typical concert with pre-pandemic rules (EG no social distancing or enhanced hygiene rules), a socially distant concert with enhanced rules designed to minimize potential spread, and a third concert with both hygiene rules and reduced attendance. Participants wore tracking devices to show close interactions with others at the venue, and special dyes were used to indicate surfaces that received high levels of contact from those attending.
Though the numbers were lower than a concert typically would draw and the research-based aspects of the evening made for a drastically different experience, those who attended were grateful for the opportunity to grab a slice of what pre-pandemic life was like after months of social distance and remote everything.
“It was a little crazy,” Kira Stuetz told CNN. “At first it almost felt wrong all people came so close together. We thought this ‘is a dream’ because it’s not allowed to be sitting together so close! But then it was really cool. I could not believe it that we were at a real concert again!”
Researchers hope to publish their results from the event before the end of the year.