DOVER — What could end up being Delaware’s largest crowd since the COVID-19 pandemic began will descend on Dover this week for the Firefly Music Festival.
The four-day event, hosted at the Woodlands of Dover, runs from Thursday until Sunday, Sept. 26.
Started in 2012, Firefly was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic. Typically held in June, this is the latest in the year that Firefly has been held.
All festival attendees will have to show proof of vaccination for COVID-19 or a negative test. The negative COVID-19 test must be administered by an official testing center and be dated no more than 72 hours prior to entry. Home testing kit results will not be accepted for entry.
“The hope is with the prevention measures put in place will stop this event from becoming a superspreader scenario,” said Dr. John Fink. Bayhealth’s vice president of quality and medical affairs.
“Requiring vaccinations or a negative test is a great first step. Encouraging good behavior like distancing, masking and hand washing will also have a big impact. Ultimately, each individual who attends will need to be aware and make good decisions to ensure their health and safety.”
But with so many individuals in one place, even outdoors, the chance of a superspreader situation does exist, especially as Delaware is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 case rates spurred by the delta variant. The state is averaging 466.6 new cases per day over the last week and the Delaware Division of Public Health reported 243 cases of the delta variant this week.
“It absolutely has the potential (of a superspreader),” said Dr. Bill Chasanov, Beebe Healthcare vice president and chief population health officer. “The rapid spread of the delta variant throughout the state and the increased number of COVID-19 cases are concerning.”
Although Firefly crowds over the weekend are estimated to be no more than 50,000 people per day, there is precedent of the same restrictions imposed by Firefly not leading to superspreaders at larger outdoor converts.
Chicago hosted Lollapalooza, a four-day music festival, earlier this summer from July 29 to Aug. 1. Festival goers also had to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry.
Chicago health officials reported 203 cases of COVID-19 connected to Lollapalooza. The event drew about 385,000 people to a lakefront park and city officials said about 90% of attendees were vaccinated.
“Nothing unexpected here,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said after the festival. “No sign of a superspreader event. But clearly with hundreds of thousands of people attending Lollapalooza, we would expect to see some cases.”
Meanwhile in Milwaukee this summer, 491 cases were linked to a parade to celebrate the Milwaukee Bucks NBA championship. No vaccine or negative tests requirements were in place to attend the outdoor event, which attracted approximately 500,000 people. Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said the parade could have been the leading factor of a 155% rise of positive cases in the city over the next week.
For Firefly, DPH said the best way to protect oneself is with the vaccine.
“We would encourage all eligible Delawareans to get the COVID-19 vaccine,” said a DPH statement provided by a spokeswoman. “That’s the best way to prevent infection and serious illness.”
The last day to receive a shot to be fully vaccinated by the start of Firefly was Sept. 9. Those who have not gotten either their second shot of Moderna or Pfizer, or a single-dose of Johnson & Johnson, by then must provide proof of a negative test.
A list of testing sites in Delaware is available at de.gov/gettested.
For those arriving Wednesday, the test must be taken today or later. Testing must be done in advance and off site in order to meet Firefly’s entry requirement.
For those presenting proof of vaccination, they must bring either a physical copy of a COVID-19 record card issued by the Centers for Disease Control or a digital copy of such card. The proofs must include the front and back of the card and all details must be legible.
A government-issued photo ID is also necessary and must match the details on the vaccination card.
Even with all these precautions, the risk is still there for COVID-19 transmission, medical experts say.
“It’s important to acknowledge that any crowded setting involves risk during the pandemic,” Dr. Fink said. “I would strongly urge anyone attending the event to be fully vaccinated. That means at least two weeks since your second dose. While it’s great this event is outdoors, it’s still important to continue the standard mitigation practices of wearing a mask even if you’re vaccinated, washing your hands frequently and maintaining as much distance as possible.”
Firefly issued a disclaimer acknowledging that risk.
“COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death,” said its statement. “There is an inherent and elevated risk of exposure to COVID-19 in any public place or place where people are present and there is no guarantee, express or implied, that those attending the festival will not be exposed to COVID-19.”
Dr. Chasanov said testing would be a proactive step for all festival goers both before and after Firefly. The ideal time to get tested post-Firefly would be five days after attending. Although if an individual experiences any COVID-19 symptoms before the five days, they should be tested at the onset of symptoms.
Dr. Chasanov added local health systems will monitor case levels in the area with the state and its partners in the weeks after Firefly, similar to holidays and other major travel occasions.
Medical professionals say vaccination is the safest method to ensure a lower chance of COVID-19 transmission, but also recommend to bring a mask to the festival, for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, for situations where social distancing is not possible.
“It’s important to make sure attendees wear a good quality face mask, regardless if they are vaccinated or not,” said Dr. Parvathi Somasundaram, Bayhealth’s occupational health medical director.
“The mask must cover the mouth and nose. Ideally a three-layer cotton mask. It’s important for attendees to maintain as much social distance as possible.”
Tickets still available
A limited number of weekend and single-day passes are still available for this year’s Firefly Music Festival.
The music starts at 3 p.m. Thursday with headliner Billie Eilish taking the main stage at 10:15 p.m.
The music starts at noon Friday-Saturday over seven stages. It will go to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday and midnight Sunday.
The Killers are the main attraction Friday night at 10:45. Tame Impala plays Saturday night at 11 on the main stage with DJ Diplo at 12:30 a.m. on the Backyard stage.
Lizzo wraps things up Sunday with a main-stage show at 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
For tickets and health information, visit FireflyFestival.com.
For those without tickets, selected shows will also be livestreamed on Firefly.mandolin.com.