With concerns rapidly rising about the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., mega-promoters Live Nation and AEG, along with the major concert booking promoters, announced their recommendation Thursday that “large-scale events through the end of March” should be postponed. Is such a dramatic step necessary? The answer, according to Dr. Daniel Griffin, an infectious disease physician specialist at Columbia University, is a clear yes.
Dr. Griffin spoke with Rolling Stone just minutes before the Live Nation/AEG announcement to explain why concerts should be canceled for now as COVID-19 spreads – and why music fans shouldn’t attend them if the shows go on.
How are you holding up?
Staying busy. Hospitals are usually at 98 percent; so are doctors. And I’m not sure how we squeeze all this into the last two [percent].
To get right to it: If it were up to you, would all concerts be canceled for the foreseeable future?
Sorry to say, yes. The concern we’re seeing now is that, as we have an increased capacity to do testing, we’re seeing that this virus is already widespread in the country. You go to a concert, there’s that many people and that level of transmission that occurs at a concert. Unfortunately, those will be big spreading events. I could see an exception for an intimate outdoor event where there’s not crowding — thinking of the different music venues I’ve been to over the years, I remember an outdoor Arlo Guthrie concert at Martha’s Vineyard…
Just to be totally clear, though, you’re referring to clubs, arenas, stadiums, amphitheaters — none of these should be having concerts right now?
Yes, that’s basically what I’m referring to. We’ve been for a while sending the message of, “Everyone stay calm, we’re doing everything we can.” And some people are saying, “Really?” And the “Really” is starting to get a little louder when they say, “Isn’t that a woman in her thirties who just got admitted to the intensive care unit? You said only old people got sick.” And we’re starting to see that. I say no one under the age of nine has died. And the question I get now is, “That means a nine-year old died?” And I say, “That is what that means.” That’s why I say no one under nine. You know, teenagers have died, unfortunately. And people in their twenties and thirties. So if you create a situation where there’s spread — a certain percent of every age group, at least above the age of nine, there will be deaths.
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As we speak, there’s a Billie Eilish concert still scheduled for Madison Square Garden on Saturday. [Note: The concert has now been canceled or postponed, along with other events in New York state.] What do you make of that?
Sounds like it’s out of a bad movie. Here we are in clearly one of the hot zones. I think if that concert goes ahead, people will look back on that and just wonder, what were people thinking, to continue, to not cancel it? And what were the people thinking who went and attended? And not only will they pick it up at the concert, but then, as human beings do, they’re going to leave that concert, they’re gonna go somewhere else — probably to their homes, their family, their friends, their loved ones, having been exposed. A percentage of them — we’ve seeing now about a third of people, 35 percent — at large gatherings like this get infected, and then that just spreads and spreads.
Can you elaborate on that 35 percent figure?
Yes, it’s actually an interesting issue. People are learning the vocabulary that we learned through our training. One of the things that people talked about was R0 — if one person has it, how many other people do they in general, infect? With measles, one person can give it to 18. COVID-19, you generally spread it to two or three other people. But there was a study that came out of China a couple weeks [ago] where they said, if you get 100 people together for dinner, what percent, in general, of the people that come to these gatherings, will end up getting infected? And the number that came was about 35 percent of the people that attend these gatherings end up infected.
Again, that is from one single person at a gathering?
That’s what all the studies say. In one case there was a dinner with 117 people; 43 of them, I think, got infected. If you get people together with one infected person, you can have major spreading events.