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Will Lollapalooza Be A Super-Spreader Event? Chicago’s Top Doc Says Cases Likely, But Show Is Safe Anyway

While there will "almost certainly" be some cases of COVID associated with Lollapalooza, Public Health boss Dr. Allison Arwady said she's "hopeful that we won't see a significant problem."

Lollapalooza in 2017.
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CHICAGO — Lollapalooza will “almost certainly” be associated with some people getting coronavirus, Chicago’s top doctor said Tuesday as fears mount the massive music festival could turn into a super-spreader event.

But health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said she is “hopeful” the festival won’t turn into a major problem, as the event’s organizers have taken safety “extremely seriously.”

“Almost certainly there will be some cases” of COVID associated with Lollapalooza, Arwady said at a Tuesday news conference. “I’m certainly hopeful that we won’t see a significant problem. And I certainly know we’re being a lot more responsible than many other settings that are just as large that are gathering around the country.”

The four-day music festival is held Downtown and routinely attracts more than 100,000 people per day, with thousands coming from all over the United States to attend. At the same time, Chicago’s positivity rate and average daily new cases has spiked in recent weeks — and surges are being seen around the country.

That’s fueled concerns the outdoor festival could become a super-spreader event.

The festival is requiring attendees to show proof they’re fully vaccinated or they’ve had a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arriving. Unvaccinated visitors will have to wear a mask the entire time, though it’s not clear how that will be enforced once people are inside.

Arwady acknowledged the city originally said Lolla attendees would have to get a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours of arrival. They changed that requirement because it wasn’t practical, as it can take longer than a day to get results back, Arwady said.

But the city and festival organizers have “done everything” to take safety steps, Arwady said: They will make masks available, they’ve done “air handling in indoor spaces,” they will test ticket-takers and they’ve ensured backstage workers are vaccinated.

There will also be vaccine ambassadors at the event to encourage people to get their shots, Arwady said.

Notably, a Dutch music festival now linked to 1,000 coronavirus cases had even stricter requirements: proof of vaccination or a negative test within 40 hours of festival attendance.

And Dr. Emily Landon, who’s regularly been called upon by the city and state to speak at coronavirus news conferences, told NBC the festival should likely be canceled or have stiffer safety restrictions.

But compared to a “lot of other festivals” in the United States, Lolla is doing better, Arwady said.

The doctor said she would not “feel comfortable” hosting the festival if it were in Louisiana, which is seeing a massive COVID-19 surge; if the organizers weren’t taking precautions; or if the festival were all indoors.

And Arwady encouraged anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19 to get a negative test before the event or to stay home, even if they’re fully vaccinated.

“Don’t attend Lolla — really, don’t attend” if you develop symptoms, Arwady said.

Arwady said she is not sure she will be at Lollapalooza — but if she does go, it will be to listen to music rather than serve in any “official role.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot also defended the city’s decision to continue with the festival at a news conference last week. The mayor said she’d make the decision to hold Lollapalooza again if asked, even as the city’s outbreak worsens.

COVID-19 vaccinations are free and do not require insurance. Anyone can call the city’s coronavirus hotline at 312-746-4835 to get more information on how and where to get vaccinated in their community.

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