Concerts have looked radically different during the pandemic. Bands that were used to spending their summers performing in front of massive crowds shifted to virtual concerts livestreamed into people’s homes.

And even though fans have tuned in, most music lovers will tell you: It’s just not the same.

There’s reason to be hopeful, though. After throwing an experimental pop concert, researchers from Germany have found that adequate ventilation and hygiene precautions could significantly reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 at mass gatherings.

Here’s what the findings may mean for the future of live music and other cultural events.

Precautions and ventilation reduce risk at concerts

To learn more about the potential for COVID-19 to spread at seated indoor events, researchers from three universities asked pop singer Tim Bendzko to put on a live show in front of 1,212 volunteer attendees at Quarterback Immobilien Arena in Leipzig, Germany, in August.

All of the involved staff and participants tested negative for the disease within 48 hours ahead of the event and wore N95 masks and contact tracing devices throughout the concert.

The researchers ran three different test concert scenarios over the course of the day. The first performance had no physical distancing restrictions or other precautions that have since become common at gatherings during the pandemic.

The second performance included moderate precautions, like double the number of entrances to reduce crowding and checkerboard pattern seating that left every other seat empty and kept people distant.

The researchers added even more restrictions to the third concert, quadrupling the number of entrances typically used at the venue and seating people in pairs, with about 5 feet of distance between each couple.

Finally, the researchers tested a couple of different ventilation options to see how air movement could impact participants’ exposure to aerosol droplets.

The results showed that a seated indoor concert with strict hygiene precautions, like masks and physical distancing, and good ventilation had “minimal effects” on the overall number of infections that were likely to occur in the community.

The researchers also found that the risk of potential exposure to aerosol droplets, which can contain the virus that causes COVID-19, increased substantially when the venue had a poor ventilation system or failed to implement precautions.

“This was a very exciting study because it reenforces that what the public health officials have been saying is truly effective,” said Dr. Clinton Christopher Haley, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. “The research is very promising for future events.”

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