After over two years of the global health crisis, the effects of COVID-19 have finally begun to wane over the past few months. This has led to an increase in unrestricted public activity, including schools fully reopening and most stores no longer requiring masks. In particular, 2022 has seen the reintroduction of a beloved and extremely public event: concerts. This year, artists across the music industry have been performing more and announcing world tours, so much so that fans often attend several concerts back to back and are experiencing enough music events to compensate for the drought during the pandemic.
One such fan, Gisele Castoreno, is a Dallas-based student who has attended several concerts during the pandemic, including 18 concerts in 2022 so far. Her favored events tend to be K-Pop concerts, including CIX, Monsta X, and TXT. Castoreno recalls TXT’s recent Dallas concert to be a particularly memorable experience, as the group has always been her favorite and meeting them in person for their first world tour “was very heart touching to [her].”
The rise in concerts this year is a massive contrast to the peak of the pandemic, when many public events like concerts were either canceled or indefinitely postponed. One of the most well-known of these cancellations was for BTS’ highly anticipated Map of the Soul tour, for which many disappointed fans had secured tickets that were later lost after the tour was postponed multiple times due to COVID-19 risks and eventually canceled entirely. For Castoreno, her connection to music had “always been [her] healing,” and the pandemic was a very lonely period where that healing effect became even more prominent. Being able to attend concerts and hear live music after so long was an integral part of that post-pandemic healing experience for many fans.
Though its spread rate has gone down, COVID-19 is still an ongoing concern, especially at crowded events like concerts. When the world reopened to welcome these events, almost every concert venue required proof of a negative COVID test or vaccination before entering the venue, and masks were mandatory throughout the event. For artists who had additional fan engagements, like meet and greets or signing events, there would be a plastic shield between the artists and fans, and gloves if there was contact between them. Additionally, fans were made aware of the health protocols that would be in place soon after the tour dates were announced, and both tour companies and individual venues would send reminders about health and safety leading up to the event.
However, this practice has dwindled for some of the more recent concerts, particularly those hosted in Texas. Similar to many stores no longer requiring masks even with a high customer volume, several venues have stopped mandating fans to wear masks despite the large crowds and likelihood of contact and spread of infection. Instead, only close-contact opportunities with the artists still require masks, while other parts of the event, including the merch lines and the main show, only list masks as a recommendation. Venues are also no longer requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test. Many fans have voiced dissent about the relaxed protocols and have urged each other to continue wearing masks and to skip the event if they feel sick.
Castoreno also mentions feeling worried, since the lack of mandates adds stress to the concert experience. The process of getting concert tickets, especially for more famous artists, is already a difficult one, and many fans often scramble to secure resale tickets to see their favorite performers. With COVID-19 added to this mix, there is no confirmation of attending a show even after buying a ticket. Most shows have been ending with multiple fans and even the artists testing positive for COVID, which has even forced them to cancel later tour stops at the last minute, with no news of a rescheduled show.
Because of this, Castoreno says her worries about attending a concert only dissipate when she is “actually inside the concert venue,” and that these negative effects of stress over cancellations and staying healthy “could have been prevented if the safety protocols were still in place.”
Since the pandemic’s effects have been less devastating recently, it is difficult to say that these concerts should not happen at all. Both the artists and staff of touring companies have been hit hard, mentally and financially. Artists and fans have also felt the distance more distinctly with each passing month and postponed event, encouraging everyone involved to jump at the chance to tour again. Having a safe concert experience, even with large scale world tours, is possible now with the decrease in cases and more people being fully vaccinated. However, making that possibility a reality is the responsibility of both the venues and the fans attending the concerts.
This starts with the companies and venues, who were clear about required health protocols at the start of these tours and should continue to mandate masks rather than recommending them. Unlike grocery stores and schools, concert venues force people to be in close contact at all times for several hours, which massively increases the likelihood for one positive case to become multiple. CDC guidelines have indicated that masks prevent the spread of COVID-19, particularly in large crowds. In addition to requiring that fans and staff stay masked throughout the event, companies should make it clear that all fans intending to attend the concerts must be vaccinated or test negative to prevent the virus from entering the crowded space in the first place.
While a venue can and should mandate proper health protocols, much of the responsibility of staying safe falls to the fans. Castoreno continues to wear a mask and use hand sanitizer before and after fan engagements regardless of each venue’s protocols. However, she finds that the lack of mandated protocols has encouraged many fans to skip wearing masks or to attend the concerts even when they may be sick. In an effort to protect each other and their favorite artists, many fans have publicly called out attendees who continue to go to concerts without masks — or worse, with a positive COVID test — especially for artists who have contracted the virus during their shows. These warnings often create enough uproar that even the artists’ companies have sent out additional announcements, strongly urging fans to wear masks at all times during the shows and to follow other recommended protocols.
Fans like Castoreno found that a shocking part of the pandemic concert experience is how many fans go to concerts knowing that they are sick, and many fans agree that this is a dangerous and selfish action that encourages the spread of an already easily-transmitted virus. Rather than allowing protocols to relax entirely, it is important to normalize being extra cautious for these large-scale events. Castoreno feels that fans “should be able to have fun but still take precautions, and know that COVID is still an ongoing thing” to be mindful of. For those attending concerts during the pandemic, it is essential to take the best steps to keep the fans and their favorite artists healthy until the world can be fully unmasked.