LEIPZIG, Germany – German pop singer Tim Bendzko tried his best on Saturday morning to energize the crowd in the Quarterback Immobilien Arena here. He was flanked by band members and singers and jumped over a stage in the indoor concert and sports venue. He pushed his microphone over about 1,400 crowded spectators and asked them to sing along.
The answer was a muffled hum – unsurprisingly, as the audience wore masks and sat in the stifling heat. Even so, an intrepid Mr. Bendzko thanked them and said: "On this day you will be the savior of the world."
They weren't typical concert-goers, but volunteers in an elaborate study by a team from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg called Restart 19.Each participant, who was equipped with a digital tracking device and a hand disinfectant enriched with fluorescent dye, was carefully examined as part of the One of the first experiments by scientists to track the risk of coronavirus infection from major indoor events is positioned in the seats.
The researchers hope to use their results to determine which elements of such events pose the greatest risk to transmission and to provide guidelines to limit such hazards and safely restart live performances around the world.
The live music and events area was hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. In Germany alone, according to a recent report from the local I.G.V.W. Commissioned study achieves annual sales of 130 billion euros. Concert venues were among the first to close to slow the spread of the virus and their future remains uncertain.
Indoor gigs have returned in Germany, but slowly, according to rules that differ from state to state. However, many promoters and promoters argue that the restrictions on volume and hygiene requirements imposed by the authorities make it economically unprofitable for venues that are not subsidized by the state to resume operations. In the United States, health experts have said that arena concerts probably wouldn't happen on a large scale until a vaccine is available.
Leipzig is located in the state of Saxony, where indoor events with up to 1,000 participants are allowed – subject to strict hygiene and distancing rules. Philipp Franke, manager of the arena where the study was conducted, said in a telephone interview that that number is still too low to reopen. The attendance limit is due to be raised in September, but the rising number of infections in Germany has taken a closer look at the plan.
Mr. Franke hoped the results of the study would enable politicians to make informed decisions about resuming concerts and indoor sports. "Cultural events are socially important," he added. "A society needs such events in order to find fulfillment and an exit."
The study is led by Dr. Stefan Moritz, head of the department for clinical infectious diseases at the university. In a phone interview, he said the experiment was a response to the fact that policymakers did not have enough scientific literature on the dangers of events like Saturday's.
"We know that personal contacts at the concert are risky, but we don't know where they take place," he said. “Is it at the entrance? Is it in the stands? "
Dr. Moritz came to the conclusion that the best way to bring in reliable data is to hold an actual concert. The arena in Leipzig agreed to help manage the logistics and recruited Mr. Bendzko. In a behind the scenes interview on Saturday, he said he participated in the study because "it's better to do something active to move things forward than sit at home wallowing in uncertainty."
He has played a few small concerts in drive-in theaters in the past few months, but they are not economically viable. "Applause doesn't pay our rent," he added.
To minimize the risk of infection, all volunteers were tested for the coronavirus in advance and their temperatures checked on arrival. Equipped with their tracking devices, masks and fluorescent disinfectant, they were then asked to simulate various concert scenarios within 10 hours: one without social distancing, one with moderate security measures and a third with strict security.
Each iteration included appearances by Mr. Bendzko and a break during which participants simulated trips to food and drink vendors and made bathroom visits. Using trackers, staff monitored how often participants approached and later used UV lamps to determine which surfaces were covered with the most fluorescent disinfectant at the end of the day.
The coronavirus outbreak>
frequently asked Questions
Updated August 24, 2020
What are the symptoms of the coronavirus?
- In the beginning, the coronavirus appeared to be primarily a respiratory disease – many patients had fevers and chills, were weak and tired, and coughed a lot. Those who seemed the sickest had pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome – which caused their blood oxygen levels to drop – and were given extra oxygen. In severe cases, they were put on ventilators to make it easier for them to breathe. By now, doctors have identified many more symptoms and syndromes. (And some people don't show many symptoms at all.) In April, the C.D.C. added to list of early signs of sore throat, fever, chills, and muscle pain. Gastrointestinal disorders such as diarrhea and nausea have also been observed. Another tell-tale sign of infection can be a sudden, profound decrease in your sense of smell and taste. In some cases, teenagers and young adults have developed painful red and purple lesions on their fingers and toes – nicknamed "Covid Toe" – but few other serious symptoms. More severe cases can lead to inflammation and organ damage, even without difficulty breathing. There have been cases of dangerous blood clots, strokes and brain disorders.
Why does it help to stand three feet away from others?
- The coronavirus spreads mainly through droplets from your mouth and nose, especially when you cough or sneeze. The C.D.C., one of the organizations using this measure, bases its six-foot recommendation on the idea that most of the large droplets that people make when they cough or sneeze fall within six feet of the ground. But six feet has never been a magical number that guarantees complete protection. For example, sneezing, according to a recent study, can trigger droplets that are far farther than two meters away. It's a rule of thumb: it is safest to stand six feet apart, especially when it's windy. But always wear a mask even if you think they are far enough apart.
I have antibodies. Am i immune now?
- As of now, this seems likely for at least a few months. There have been appalling reports of people apparently suffering from a second attack of Covid-19. However, experts say these patients may have a protracted course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may only last in the body for two to three months, which may seem worrying, but that's perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it is highly unlikely to be possible in a short window of time after the initial infection or make people sick the second time.
I am a small business owner. Can I get relief?
- The stimulus packages passed in March provide help for millions of American small businesses. Eligible are companies and non-profit organizations with fewer than 500 employees, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and freelancers. Some larger companies in some industries are also eligible. The assistance offered, administered by the Small Business Administration, includes the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. But a lot of people haven't seen any payouts yet. Even those who have received help are confused: the rules are draconian, and some are stuck on money they cannot use. Many small business owners get less than expected or hear nothing at all.
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
Dr. Moritz said the most fascinating finding is probably related to aerosol spread. Scientists recently confirmed that the virus could potentially hover in mid-air for hours in enclosed environments.
"It's so strange what happens to these air movements," he said. "Things you wouldn't expect."
To simulate the spread of aerosols in the arena on Saturday, staff used a smoke machine to emit a cloud of mist into the rafters. It drifted upward before spiraling and spreading to the audience. The propagation of particles in space has been modeled by Mr. Moritz's team, who will compare it with data collected from carbon dioxide sensors during the study.
Dr. Moritz said the results of the study, which was sponsored by the federal states of Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, are expected to be available in early October, arguing that the results could likely be applied to similar events and venues around the world. He added that he had already been contacted by researchers in Australia, Belgium and Denmark who wanted to conduct similar studies.
For many spectators it was worth the volunteer work to finally attend a concert after months of privation.
Bianca Tenten, a 21-year-old student from Cologne, said that listening to music at home could not replicate the feeling of togetherness and spontaneous encounters that she often experienced at live music events. She added that for concert promoters and artists, "there is a passion and a love".
And Stefanie Oehme, a 34-year-old teacher who traveled to Leipzig from Dresden, said she was discouraged by people who claimed that restrictions on public life would remain here.
"I think this is a sign that things are moving back towards normal," she said. "It makes it a little more tangible."