4,000 volunteers needed to study how COVID-19 spreads at concerts

Your body may not survive, but rock ‘n’ roll never dies.

Contact tracers in Germany are asking 4,000 brave music fans to attend an upcoming concert for the sake of science. The cohort of concertgoers will be there to watch Euro-pop singer Tim Bendzko, but their presence in the crowded indoor arena will serve the fight against the coronavirus.

Although most of Bendzko’s “Bin Ich Ja Hier” (“Now I Am Here”) tour has been postponed until next summer — much to the chagrin of his 192,000 Instagram followers — his show on Aug. 22 will serve as part of a study dubbed RESTART-19, or “risk prediction of indoor sport and culture events for the transmission of COVID-19.”

Organized by researchers at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, the aim of the experiment is to analyze how a viral pathogen spreads in a packed, indoor space. With that information, they hope to “identify a framework” for how large events could be conducted “without posing a danger for the population.”

Stefan Moritz, event coordinator and head of infectious diseases at the university’s hospital, told The Guardian: “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.”

Study participants, aged between 18 and 50, will be required to carry pocket-sized “contact tracer” devices that will track their every move during the show. Once inside, they will also be asked to disinfect their hands with a sanitizer made of a fluorescent solution. The residue left on their hands, and subsequently rubbed off on doorknobs, bar counters and toilet handles, will later glow under UV lights as scientists peruse the 12,000-seat Leipzig music hall for the surfaces that see the most human contact.

Masks fashioned with an exhalation valve will also be provided and required to enter. Organizers say the measure will make their odds of infection “extremely slim,” though their safety against the virus is not guaranteed.

Researchers assure that they have no intent on tracking an actual viral spread. Rather, the experiment serves as a simulation for how and where individuals could come into contact with the coronavirus. To prevent such a disaster, all participants will be take two COVID-19 tests, one conducted at home and the other with a doctor, two days prior to the event. Those who can’t prove their tests returned negative will not be admitted.

As of Monday, 775 people have already volunteered. Scientists will divide the participants into three groups, each of which will be asked to play out a different scenario of varying levels of social distance, including one where they won’t be distanced at all.

Back in May, America’s first socially-distant concert took place at 20% capacity in Arkansas, with masked concertgoers seated in chairs arranged 6 feet apart during Bishop Gunn frontman Travis McCready’s performance.

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