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Concert halls COVID-safe at half capacity, study finds

A new study from Germany claims that arts venues are COVID-safe at half audience capacity with good ventilation.

The Dortmund Concert Hall teamed up with scientific research organisation, the Fraunhofer Society, to investigate the spatial spread of aerosols and CO2 in a music venue. It looks specifically at the risk of infection for audience members when attending concert halls and theatres.

The study, which took place in November, found that in the concert hall, the risk of COVID-19 infection through audience members’ heavy breathing and talking was extremely low.

Raphael von Hoensbroch, director of the Dortmund Concert Hall, said: “The best aid program that we can now set up is to give artists a stage again – that is, to reopen concert halls and theatres. Because many of the aid programmes set up by the state do not reach those affected.”

Extensive tests, involving employees and players from the Dortmund Philharmonic, took place in the venue’s hall and foyer, with a mannequin also being used to simulate the emission of human breath.

The Fraunhofer Society found that the hall’s central ventilation system, combined with all audience members wearing a mask, greatly reduced levels of aerosol and CO2 pollution.

The study concludes these findings could be transferred to other venues, but they would need a similar ventilation system.

“The concert hall cannot trigger a superspreading event with an existing ventilation concept (complete air exchange with outside air every 20 minutes),” the concert hall said on its website.

The researchers also noted that a full audience would not be unimaginable during the pandemic, but recommends half capacity after taking into account the access routes – including entrances and corridors – to the hall and foyers.

It advises a “checkerboard pattern” for the seating arrangement to allow for social distancing and to allow the audience to remove their mask after taking their seat.

Isabell Pfeiffer-Poengsen, Minister of Culture and Science of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, describes the study as an “important building block”.

However, cultural institutions are still required to stay closed in the region. She added: “It is all the more important to create perspectives and planning security for the time after the lockdown.”

A spokesperson for the concert hall said, according to Classic FM: “As soon as this is possible in line with the infection situation, cultural institutions should be able to reopen, based on scientific facts and a full consideration of the respective local conditions.”

The study follows a previous German study, which took place in August, that found that indoor concerts pose a “low to very low” risk of attendees contracting COVID-19 so long as measures are adhered to by both the venue and the fans.

The experiment, which is part of a project called Restart-19, run by the University Medical Center in the German city of Halle (Saale), similarly found that transmission is “low” so long as attendees follow correct hygiene procedures, the venue limits capacity and maintains good ventilation.

Image: JosefLehmkuhl / CC BY-SA 3.0 / Edited for size