Oct 5, 2021 - COVID
Crowds, no masks: What Austin City Limits means for COVID spread
A crowd stands behind a barricade at Austin City Limits music festival
The crowd during Polo G's set on weekend one of Austin City Limits Music Festival. Photo: Erika Goldring/WireImage

Masks were few and far between at the first weekend of Austin City Limits Music Festival, despite organizers' best efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Driving the news: But attendees may notice changes during the second weekend, an Austin Public Health official told Axios on Monday.

  • Austin environmental health officers were onsite during the festival and "identified additional opportunities for mask-zone education and enforcement for weekend 2," an agency spokesperson said in an email.
  • Those modifications could mean additional signage and announcements at stages and other crowded areas, Austin Public Health explained.

What they're saying: "We recognize the challenge and commend ACL organizers for checking for negative COVID tests and/or proof of vaccine at ALL entrances including VIP as well as proper enforcement of masking indoors," the Austin Public Health spokesperson said in an email.

  • "Additionally, for any issues that were identified over the weekend, we appreciate how fast ACL staff responded to concerns from Austin Public Health."

Why it matters: Austin is within the threshold for stage 3 coronavirus guidelines, but officials have held off on making the move to the loosened restrictions. It's unclear what this past weekend's crowds will mean for the city's COVID-19 cases and a return to stage 3 guidelines.

Flashback: In a press conference last Friday, public health officials said they expected few opportunities for COVID-19 spread at the festival given ACL's safety measures.

  • "With the mitigation plan ACL has presented … we are anticipating that we should have a low number of cases that result from this large gathering event," said Austin-Travis County Health Authority Desmar Walkes.
  • ACL required masks in certain areas, including sections near the festival's many stages.
  • Attendees were also required to present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the event's start.

When asked Monday about concerns that ACL could become a superspreader event, Mayor Steve Adler told KVUE: "There's always a concern," but "we think we're going to be OK."

  • "The risks were weighed versus the benefit of getting some people vaccinated," Adler said, adding that the city's low positivity rate means there should be few opportunities for COVID-19 spread at the festival.

The bottom line: We won't immediately know the impact of ACL crowds, but it's clear that mask guidelines weren't followed during the festival. COVID-19 data lags because the virus' incubation period is up to 14 days.

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