AUSTIN, Texas — As weekend one of ACL Fest 2021 unfolded in Austin, the city started to look normal – almost pre-pandemic normal. Photos of mostly un-masked crowds at Zilker Park have some worried that the music festival could become a superspreader event.
"It's great to get it to any level of normalcy," Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in an interview with KVUE the day after the first part of the event. "A little concerned about the event. But on balance, the positivity rate in the community is at a low that we haven't seen. And in a couple of months, we know that a lot of people got vaccinated in order to be able to get in. And that's a good thing. We used it to help increase those numbers."
Thousands of people attended the event and were required to show proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before the event. On Saturday, ACL Fest said during Day 1 of Weekend 1 on Friday, 86% of attendees showed proof of vaccination and 14% came prepared with their negative COVID-19 test results. However, some fest-goers responded to ACL's tweet, saying they did not see staffers checking health documents.
Masks were also required in areas of the park that were indoors and where social distancing was not possible, including in front of the stages. Photos of crowds show that masks were few and far between throughout the weekend.
KVUE's Rob Evans asked the mayor whether the city is going to do anything to make sure the mask policy is more enforced for Weekend 2 of ACL.
"Well, I think we have to be trying to do everything we can to encourage those behaviors," Adler said. "But you know, we've seen these events now here in Austin this week. We'd seen them in Lollapalooza in Chicago. We look at the events in other places in the country. We pretty much knew what to expect. And you're taking everything into account and coming out on balance with what's the right thing to do?"
Hours after this interview, Austin Public Health said in a statement that they are working with ACL to ensure that more masking happens at the festival.
When asked if he was worried ACL could become a superspreader event, Adler said, "there's always a concern," but he said he thinks it will be OK.
"The risks were weighed versus the benefit of getting some people vaccinated," Adler said. "The positivity rate down such that it's going to be fewer and farther between the people in the concert like that would be next to somebody who had the virus. We think we're going to be OK."
COVID-19 cases in Austin will be monitored in the weeks following the two-week festival.
Heading into Weekend 1 of ACL Fest, Austin moved to Stage 4 of the city's risk-based guidelines, and, looking at hospital admissions, Austin has entered the threshold for Stage 3. Austin health leaders will continue to monitor the numbers before making the call to move to Stage 3.
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