Are gatherings like NYC’s Homecoming concerts potential COVID spreading events? Evidence says no, but new variants could change that

Local News

BROOKLYN, New York — Vaccinations continue to rise in New York City, and Mayor Bill de Blasio is counting on his vaccine mandate to help ensure that the coronavirus doesn’t spread among vaccinated people, including people at the city’s large scale Homecoming Concert series this week.

However, new variants — including one so new that it doesn’t yet have a Greek letter applied to it — may be a factor in making the large attendance events, as well as other gatherings, threatening to health.

Regarding the subject of mass gathering health safety, Thursday began with a most unusual musical pairing. Mayor de Blasio had invited funk music legend George Clinton to join him at City Hall for his daily briefing. Clinton was on hand to discuss his upcoming appearance at the city’s Homecoming Concert in Queens, set for Friday evening.  

In return, Clinton let the mayor, First Lady Chirlaine Mclain, and their son Dante join him in a revised rendition of Clinton’s classic, “One Nation Under a Groove.”

“One city under a groove,” the quartet sang.

It was an historic moment, albeit one that was decidedly off-key.  

It was yet another way the mayor has been highlighting the city’s Homecoming Concerts — there’s one in every borough this week, with Clinton headlining the Friday night Queens show.

Later in the briefing, when the mayor took questions, he was asked, as has been the case multiple times this week, if he’s concerned that the concert serious could spread the virus. Each time, he responds by saying that vaccinations prevent COVID spread.  Thursday was no exception.  

“We have a real opportunity” de Blasio said, “to overcome and push back Delta if we can really maximize vaccination in these next months.”

Also on Thursday, however, a vaccine expert talked about how a variety of new, unfamiliar factors that could increase risks of COVID spread. 

Dr. Gregory Poland, the founder of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic, was on the PIX11 Morning News. He said that beyond the delta variant is the lambda variant, which has emerged in South America.

“It’s highly infectious,” Dr. Poland pointed out.  

However, he added, an even newer variant could be an even greater threat, looming on the horizon.

“It’s so new it does not yet have a Greek letter,” he said.  “It caused an outbreak in a nursing home in Belgium, and killed seven people that were fully vaccinated.”

“What’s concerning,” he continued, “is it’s nine percent of cases that have been seen in Miami.”

Neither variant is widespread yet, with the delta variant being the dominant strain in the U.S. for now.

Some recent large-scale events across the country have provided some indication of the dangers that are present now.

During Fourth of July activities in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention learned that vaccinated people can still spread the disease, because it did spread among partygoers there.   However, a look at the overall situation there shows that vaccines work well. 

At least 120,000 people are estimated to have attended events in Provincetown that weekend. From that number came 469 documented COVID cases.

Similarly, from July 29 through Aug. 1, some 385,000 people attended Lollapalooza concert activities in Chicago.  Illinois health authorities have found that 203 cases of COVID may be connected to the concert.

With at least 90 percent of attendees at both events having been vaccinated, the infection numbers show that vaccines are about 99 percent effective.

Meanwhile, at New York’s Homecoming concerts this week, the city has made clear that all attendees have to have been vaccinated. 

But one vaccinated concertgoer said that she has doubts.  

Bedford-Stuyvesant resident Rosalind Mackey said she’s seen that “people can forge vaccination cards.”

Despite that, she added, she still feels safe going to the Homecoming concerts.  

“You just have to take your chance,” she said.

She and other people waiting in line to enter the Brooklyn concert with her were eager to attend.

John Laguer said that he’d come from the Bronx to the Brooklyn concert, after having been to the Homecoming concert in his home borough earlier in the week.

“I’m just concert hopping,” he said.  

He said that he feels safe, but more important, he said, is that he’s having a good time.

The largest of the concert series will be in Central Park on Saturday: 60,000 people are expected to attend.  All are required to show proof of vaccination. 

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