Medical Examiner

The Good News From Lollapalooza About COVID

crowd of people singing and cheering
Festival-goers at Lollapalooza on Aug. 1 in Chicago. Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Lollapalooza certainly looked scary from above. The Chicago music festival, held at the end of July, brought footage of enormous crowds of people squashed together, presumably shouting and singing and generally spraying aerosols:

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Now, however, health officials in Chicago are saying that Lollapalooza does not appear to have been a superspreader event, as some feared it would be.

Out of nearly 400,000 people who attended the festival, just 203 tested positive for the virus, as NBC Chicago reported. The vast majority of people at the event—at least 88 percent—were vaccinated. While the case numbers include breakthrough cases (127 of them), festivalgoers who were unvaccinated were four times as likely to be among those cases.

Yes, it’s possible that those people spread the virus to others after the event, and that testing and self-reporting missed some cases; we also still don’t really know how breakthrough infections connect to long COVID. But this news has to be taken as good, because the numbers from Lollapalooza seem to confirm that the delta variant is not a fundamentally different virus from the one we’ve been enduring since last spring.

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Though it may be better at making itself at home in the human body, and is certainly more spreadable, delta can be kept in check by the same control measures that public health officials honed in on for the original coronavirus—namely vaccines, socializing outdoors instead of indoors, and masks. (A mask mandate for indoor spaces at the festival went into effect on its third day, to reflect Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.) That’s also the lesson from the Provincetown, Massachusetts, outbreak, which involved some 900 cases and seven hospitalizations. Yes, it’s still a lot of cases, especially if those people in turn spread the virus to others—which is why the outbreak led to new more stringent mask guidance. But it also showed that one of our measures—vaccines—is working to prevent severe illness. Bad scene, good news.

Fine, we can’t call any of this unequivocally good. We’re still in a health crisis. But if you’re feeling scared of delta, and also weary from well over a year of taking precautions, Lollapalooza should serve as a reminder of an important lesson of the pandemic: go revel outside.

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