On August 22 in Leipzig, Germany, 1,500 participants crammed together in a concert stadium for the sake of science.
The pop-up concert study, titled “Restart-19”, was organized to help researchers study how COVID-19 behaves and spreads in large-scale stadium events. It actually marked the first time that people in Germany were allowed inside an indoor arena for a concert.
This study was organized by Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg and run by the University Hospital in Halle. Michael Gekle, Dean of the medical faculty at the university, explained he hopes the data will “contribute to national decisions as to whether an event should take place or not, thanks to reliable predictions as to the risk of additional infections related to such an event.”
How Was the Experiment Performed?
Study researchers simulated three different concert scenarios during this experiment. Each scenario encompassed different health and safety protocols, admission plans, and seat assignments.
All 1,500 participants were required to test negative for the coronavirus 48 hours before the event and wear masks throughout the duration of the experiment. Pop singer Tim Bendzko performed and vendors served food. Aside from the data collection and masks, it nearly resembled a pre-COVID concert event.
First, volunteers were equipped with contract tracers to record their movements and routes in the arena. This helped researchers analyze high-traffic areas and track the path of aerosols, the tiny particles believed to carry the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The Restart-19 study team also used fluorescent disinfectants to highlight which concert surfaces were touched most frequently.
How Was Each Scenario Performed?
Researchers asked pop singer Tim Bendzko to perform in order to create as realistic a reaction from the crowd as possible in each scenario.
During the first scenario, concert-goers sat shoulder-to-shoulder in the room without any social distancing.
During the second scenario, researchers organized several points of entry to minimize crowding and ensure social distancing between volunteers.
The third concert scenario was the most conservative. It used a smaller audience size and strictly enforced social distancing by keeping participants five feet apart.
After the concert, Bendzko told reporters that the concerts felt more realistic than he expected. “We really had a lot of fun,” he said. “We survived drive-in concerts this summer and in that respect, for us, this is a first step toward normalcy.”
Researchers reported they are satisfied with the data collected, even though only a third of the 4,200 people expected to participate actually attended the event. Results of the study are expected by early October. In response to criticisms that the study won’t properly reflect the true concert environment, Gekle said it was better than nothing.
“That’s the problem of every study, that it’s not the ‘real world,’ ” he said. “So we faced the option of either remaining without data or having data that doesn’t completely reflect the normal context — but it’s still halfway there. And halfway is still better than nothing at all.”