Researchers Need 4,000 Volunteers to Study How Coronavirus Spreads at Concerts

Contact tracers at a German concert will observe how close attendees get to each other, where they stand, and which surfaces they touch the most.
July 22, 2020, 11:00am
concert crowd coronavirus
Image by Vishnu R from Pixabay

The "Events" section of German pop singer Tim Bendzko's website is covered with angry red slashes, each mark denoting one of the dozen-plus concerts from his "Jetzt Bin Ich Ja Hier" ("Now I Am Here") tour that have been pushed from this spring and summer to next year. The platinum-selling artist does have one show scheduled for late August, and would-be attendees don't have to buy a ticket—but they do have to register through Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg.

Bendzko's concert is part of RESTART-19, which is an acronym for an otherwise clunkily named experiment called "Risk prEdiction of indoor SporT And cultuRe events for the Transmission of COVID-19." The university researchers are hoping that they'll get 4,000 volunteers for the concert, which is essentially large-scale, real-time research into how coronavirus spreads in a crowded indoor arena.

“We are trying to find out if there could be a middle way between the old and the new normal that would allow organizers to fit enough people into a concert venue to not make a [financial] loss,” Stefan Moritz, the event's coordinator and the head of clinical infectious diseases at the University's hospital, told The Guardian.

Each participating adult (everyone who signs up must be between the ages of 18 and 50) will be equipped with an FFP2 filter mask, a small contact tracing device, and a bottle of fluorescent disinfectant to spray on their hands. According to the RESTART-19 website, the contact tracer will constantly measure how close each of the attendees get to each other, while the disinfectant spray will leave UV light-sensitive prints on frequently touched surfaces throughout the arena. "Particularly dangerous surfaces can be identified in this way, which can then be given special consideration in future concepts," the site explains.

After arriving at the Quarterback Immobilien Arena in Leipzig, the concertgoers will be walked through three different simulations. In the first, they'll all be allowed into the venue through two main entrances, the way things would've been done pre-pandemic. In the second, they'll be divided among eight entrances and will be seated at "significantly larger distances" from each other. In the third and most restrictive scenario, only 2,000 people will be allowed to enter, and they will all be required to sit at least 1.5 meters apart. Bendzko will be playing during all three scenarios to make each one feel as realistic as possible.

Also yes, every participant will be required to take a coronavirus test no more than 48 hours before the concert, while anyone who has displayed symptoms of the virus during that period will be disqualified from participating in the experiment. In addition, the FFP2 filter mask must be worn for the duration of the show and no one will be allowed to remove it to eat or drink inside the arena.

"The RESTART-19 project is intended to identify possible conditions under which artists and athletes can play and perform again after September 30, 2020, without endangering the population from these events," the researchers wrote. "In addition, it should be examined which optimization processes and technical changes may be necessary in the event halls in order to minimize the risk."

As of this writing, more than 940 volunteers have signed up to participate. The researchers say they should be ready to present the results of the experiment in early October.