Two of the most high profile festival events on the calendar announced that vaccination won’t be required for 2022. Coachella and Stagecoach, both operated by Goldenvoice and taking place in southern California, will no longer require all who attend be vaccinated against COVID-19, opting instead to allow proof of either full vaccination or a recent negative test for entry.

“After seeing first-hand the low transmission data and successful implementation of safety protocols at our festivals recently, alongside the rising vaccination rate of eligible Americans, we feel confident that we can safely update our policy for Coachella that allows for negative covid test taken within 72 hours of the event OR proof of full vaccination,” reads the updated rules page for the Coachella event. Attendees are still warned that COVID-19 is a significant health risk and not to go if they are experiencing any symptoms – and that the health and safety policies can be changed if necessary at any time by organizers.

Coachella and Stagecoach were among the first major events to be impacted by COVID in the spring of 2020, postponing first to the fall of 2020, then cancelled entirely by mid-June of last year. Plans for a return in 2021 were subsequently dashed by California health officials, paving the way for hopes that 2022 would allow for the full scale return of the early anchors of the festival calendar.

The shift in policy throws open questions about the overall strategy of vaccination requirements put in place by promoters for safe reopening amid COVID. AEG Presents, which is the parent company of Goldenvoice, put a strict vaccination requirement policy for all events it promotes earlier this year, which was followed shortly by a similar announcement from Live Nation Entertainment. The policies have allowed negative test alternatives to vaccination requirements in some states like Florida and Texas, which have seen anti-mandate rules put in place by government officials – but that is certainly not the case in California, which has its own vaccination requirements for events in some locations.

Health officials were quick to argue against the wisdom of rolling back a vaccination requirement – particularly given the fact that the events are already sold out and therefore not in need of any push to sell more tickets to a vaccine-hesitant market.

“Vaccination is the best way to prevent getting COVID-19. If a concert has a group of unvaccinated individuals in a close space — even outdoors — this can lead to outbreaks,” Dr. Annette Regan, a professor of epidemiology at UCLA told The Los Angeles Times. “Even though we may have been lucky with other concert events, we can look at the Verknipt music festival in the Netherlands over this past summer as an example where similar policies did not work. They required proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test prior to entry, and still the concert resulted in over 1,000 new COVID-19 cases.

“A negative test 72 hours before the event does not indicate the person is COVID-free,” she added. “They may be too early in the disease to detect it and could still be infected and able to spread during the concert.”

Despite those risks, other examples like Lollapalooza, which reportedly only saw approximately 200 COVID cases associated with its August event out of 400,000 who attended, provided a weighty counterpoint. And case numbers have lowered significantly in recent weeks, bolstering hopes that the surge driven by the latest variant to emerge and improved vaccination rates have gotten things back on track for the continued reopening with fewer restrictions for consumers.

“This was always an open-ended policy, and we looked at the data and felt good about unwinding it for outdoor festivals,” an AEG spokesperson told the Times. “Our policy was that we planned on following the data. We got there sooner than we thought.”

Last Updated on October 19, 2021