NYC Hosts ‘Homecoming’ Mega Concert in Defiance of Delta Spread
In late July, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a mega concert in Central Park that’s set to be a “once-in-a-generation” event to mark the city’s comeback from the worst of the pandemic. That celebratory mode is now dissipating as Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are once again rising in the city.
The concert, called “Homecoming,” will feature artists including Bruce Springsteen, Jennifer Hudson, and LL Cool J, who are set to perform on the Great Lawn of Central Park Saturday afternoon to a crowd of 60,000. At least one vaccine dose is required for those eligible, and others will need to present a negative Covid-19 test. There’s no requirement for attendees to socially distance or wear masks.
“It’s a little soon to be celebrating,” Danielle Ompad, associate professor of Epidemiology at New York University’s School of Global Public Health, said on Friday. Her worries include visitors from states with low vaccination rates and the lack of mask and physical distance requirements at the concert. “This is planned before the delta variant cases took off, so for me that changed the equation.”
Covid-19 patients are dying in U.S. hospitals at levels not seen since February, and the numbers could worsen as intensive-care units overflow in parts of the South. While New York City’s vaccination rates are higher, that hasn’t stopped companies like International Business Machines Corp. from closing its offices in the city this week.
De Blasio defended the city’s decision to host the series of celebration concerts, including the mega event.
“When it comes to the concerts -- they are outdoors, they are for vaccinated folks only. We are definitely encouraging mask use,” he said at a briefing this week. “This is absolutely strategic to say to people, to fully participate in the life of the city and to love and enjoy this city, go get vaccinated.”
A success in staging “Homecoming” could add to examples of large-scale concerts that were able to avoid becoming superspreader events. Chicago health officials said the city’s Lollapalooza, a four-day music festival that started in late July that drew an estimated 385,000 people, showed no signs of widespread infections. While 203 cases were reported by attendees two weeks after the start of the festival, the numbers were within expectation, they said.
“This is going to be the new normal,” said Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an epidemiologist physician, who supported New York City’s decision to host the mega concert because it’s outdoors with most attendees vaccinated.
“We have to start to learn how to conduct these types of events in a safe manner,” Adalja said. “People’s desire to do these events is not going to go away.”
In addition to the New York concert, there’s attention on other events that attracted large crowds. In South Dakota, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally drew more than half a million visitors over 10 days with no vaccine or mask requirements. The event ended Aug. 15 and its full impact on Covid-19 spread will be assessed later this month. With “Homecoming,” any surge in transmissions would only be seen in September.
Other New York City events aren’t taking that risk. A number of live-streamed and smaller-scale events will replace the West Indian Day Parade. The Mermaid Parade that draws hundreds of thousands to Coney Island every year has been canceled.
“Unfortunately, Covid-19 is not finished with us quite yet,” the organizers of Mermaid Parade said, adding that it canceled the September event because the risk to the community and those involved “were too much to bear.”
The Central Park show also comes at a time of greater uncertainty over the state of the pandemic. Health officials in the U.S. are now planning booster shots based on studies that show waning protection from the vaccines over time. A number of performers are over 70.
“I am concerned that something else, another variant could emerge that could be problematic,” Ompad said. “If I did go to that concert, I would try to be as far away from everybody as possible, so I definitely wouldn’t be in the front row -- and I would be wearing my mask.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.