The current surge of coronavirus cases is threatening to upend the return to “normalcy” this fall that Charlotte has been eagerly awaiting.
Zoom out: This was supposed to be a blockbuster late summer and autumn for live entertainment here. Now that vaccines are widespread, industry leaders anticipated a bounce back in attendance of everything we missed last year, from big concerts to festivals to college and NFL football games.
- The Oct. 2-3, in particular, seemed triumphant: It’s the last weekend of Charlotte SHOUT!, and the weekend for Taste of Charlotte in Uptown, Moo & Brew Fest at the Music Factory, the Breakaway Music Festival at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and the Wine & Food Festival in SouthPark.
Yes, but: Over the summer vaccinations slowed down and plateaued, and we’re nowhere close to “herd immunity.” There isn’t a mask mandate in North Carolina anymore. The highly contagious Delta variant is fueling a spike in cases and hospitalizations among unvaccinated individuals.
Despite the bleak outlook, big event venues in Charlotte are moving ahead and hoping the shows go on. Except for a few concerts, most events aren’t yet requiring mask mandates, social distancing or proof of vaccine.
- At Spectrum Center, for instance, masks are recommended but not required. There’s signage around the building encouraging their use, though.
Bank of America Stadium will operate at full capacity (more than 75,000 seats) when it hosts arguably the biggest college football game of the year on Sept. 4 — Clemson vs. Georgia.
- That same September weekend at the stadium: East Carolina vs. App State. Charlotte Sports Foundation executive director Danny Morrison heralded it “the best weekend of sports” all year.
When customers purchase a ticket at the stadium, they have to accept the event terms and conditions, including the NFL’s “fan health promise.” It states in part that the customer, if they’re unvaccinated, will not attend the event if they’ve experienced COVID-19 symptoms or have come into contact with someone with COVID-19.
- Fans also have to agree not to sue if they are exposed to COVID-19.
- The stadium will undergo deep cleaning and provide hand sanitizer and masks for fans who want them.
“I would absolutely recommend that anyone hosting such an event have a mask mandate in place,” says Lyndie Forthofer, Ph.D, interim associate dean for academic affairs at the College of Health and Human Services at UNC Charlotte.
It’s about limiting risk, she tells Axios.
“It is a challenge, and maybe that means that people attending aren’t eating or drinking while they’re there. I know that has revenue implications.”
Already in Charlotte, we’re having 2020 deja vu as some big upcoming entertainers rethink their fall concerts because of the surge.
- Michael Bublé moved his Charlotte show at the Spectrum Center from Aug. 17 to Oct. 24.
- Garth Brooks, scheduled to perform at Bank of America Stadium Sept. 25, is reassessing his upcoming stadium tour, per the AP.
Live Nation, which operates popular venues here like PNC Music Pavilion and The Fillmore, updated its safety protocols for shows over the weekend. Starting October 4 at all its venues, Live Nation will require full vaccination against COVID-19 for all event attendees and staff, or show a negative test result for entry, Rolling Stones reported.
- That’s what event organizers did for Lollapalooza in Chicago last month.
- Dead & Company and Maroon 5, both with Charlotte shows coming up, both said previously they’d require either proof of vaccine or a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours of their show.
“That is the number one thing anyone can do to take care of those around them and we are encouraging as many shows as possible to adopt this model,” Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino said in a recent memo to employees.
So far, the city hasn’t seen any of its major upcoming fall conventions cancel because of the surge, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, the city’s tourism arm.
- Among the upcoming big events at the Charlotte Convention Center: SNAXPO21, a snack industry convention that canceled its 2020 event in Charlotte, plus the Charlotte Auto Show.
- Starting Thursday, CRVA employees must wear a mask while working inside a CRVA-managed venue, regardless of vaccination status, spokesperson Karen Brand said. CRVA manages the Charlotte Convention Center, NASCAR Hall of Fame, and Bojangles Entertainment Complex.
The course of the pandemic, and whether and when we return to “normal,” depends on human behavior, Forthofer says. That’s why widespread vaccinations — and taking safety precautions like masks in crowds — are so important, she adds.
“The longer this goes on, the greater the risk of another variant against which our vaccines are not effective.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated Aug. 15 to include Live Nation’s updated policy.