Organizers of an Ottawa concert are hoping that rapid COVID-19 testing will set the stage for live performances to make a comeback, but one expert warns that it may be a while before musicians can safely play for a stadium of screaming fans.
The Ontario Festival Industry Taskforce is billing The Long Road Back the first event of its kind in Canada, saying screening the audience provides an added layer of precaution that could help usher in the return of concert season.
Both a ticket and a negative COVID-19 test are required to attend the outdoor show featuring soul band the Commotions in Lansdowne Park on March 27.
The audience will be capped at 100 people, who will be required to wear masks and physically distance, say organizers.
The concert-goers will be asked to undergo rapid COVID-19 antigen screening at some Shoppers Drug Mart locations within 48 hours of showtime.
The chair of the Ontario Festival Industry Taskforce said he hopes the event will help establish best practices for concerts to come, but a lot of factors must fall into place before live music events in Canada can reach full volume.
"Rapid testing is not a foolproof solution," Mark Monahan said. "It's another level of security and safety."
Monahan said The Long Road Back, which sold out within hours of its announcement Tuesday, will be considered a success if everyone enjoys the show and returns home safely.
Rapid screening can help identify concert-goers who are carrying the virus, but not showing symptoms, said Monahan.
But it doesn't eliminate the risk of infection, he acknowledged, and the safety of live music events largely depends on rate of community transmission.
Monahan said the hope is that Ontario's vaccination rollout will outpace the spread of COVID-19 virus in time for larger-scale concerts to be held this summer, said Monahan.
While public safety is the No. 1 priority, Monahan said the music industry also has to crunch the numbers to figure out whether it makes financial sense to hold concerts at reduced capacity.
"A lot of the industry is simply out of work," said Monahan. "This is an attempt to start it back up."
Dr. Barry Pakes, an assistant professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said he worries that rapid COVID-19 testing may give concert-goers a "false sense of confidence."
"Right from the beginning of this pandemic, there was this idea that we can test our way out of it," said Pakes, "and I think now, a year later, (we've) seen many failures of that strategy."
No test is 100 per cent accurate, he said, and as the size of a crowd increases, so too does the likelihood that a positive case could slip through screening.
All it takes is one inaccurate result to force a swath of the audience into quarantine, Pakes noted.
And as COVID-19 variants circulate, he believes it may be many more months — if not years — before large-scale gatherings can safely take place.
It's a big jump from listening to songs alone in your apartment to writhing in a mosh pit. But Pakes said Canadians can hold out hope that they may soon be able to chill out to music with a small group of friends.
"We have a long way to go," he said. "We've been doing this for long enough that I think most people have really reasonable expectations."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2021.