Monday, August 30, 2021

Touring During Delta

So many complicated decisions.  Is it safe to play concerts?  Here are my two cents.

As the fourth wave of the pandemic is shutting the US down one way or another, hospitals overflowing, a thousand people dying a day, and so on, obviously a lot of tour and other travel plans are being canceled.

If you listen to the headlines, you may get the impression this fourth wave is a result of the Delta Variant.  But the Delta Variant is also the primary variant spreading in other countries that are not having a fourth wave, like Denmark.

Whereas in some countries, a central public health authority makes sensible decisions based on best practices and good data that are applied nationwide, such as in Denmark, in other countries, there is no central authority to speak of, and any regional efforts at having a strategy to cope with the pandemic are soon overwhelmed by the realities of living in one country with no internal borders, where the idea of having a regional strategy to deal with what is at the very least a national problem is basically a joke.  That's our situation in the US, so every individual musician and audience member, along with everyone else in society, is left making their own decisions, based on whatever they conclude seems to make the most sense under the extremely complex circumstances.

As one of those individuals, having no hope that the public health authorities in the US will ever get it together, I have come up with my own approach based on my assessment of the costs, benefits, and risks involved.

What the pandemic's most recent chapter has taught us, or at least those of us who are paying attention, is that under the right circumstances, a country can avoid a fourth Delta Variant wave, and end social distancing, masking, restrictions on singing, dancing, etc., through widespread vaccination, the national use of a corona pass system, and a national policy of requiring all visitors be fully vaccinated.  Denmark is one country that has demonstrated this is possible.  I'm just back from a tour there.

While there is no way to really benefit from the Danish model without a national government's involvement in its effective implementation, we can at least assume that if we do our best to approximate it, we're conducting ourselves in a way that is safe enough so as not to cause problems for society, even if there is always some kind of risk, if you're going to leave your bedroom.

So, my policy for the current situation is only to play in countries where vaccine access is universal (and where I'm allowed in), and wherever practical, to require proof of vaccination for anyone who comes to a gig, including of course any musicians involved.  When playing in countries like Denmark, all of this is already standard procedure, and legally required.  Where this isn't the case, it's inevitably going to be less predictable.

If there are bans on social gatherings or concerts, etc., I would not try to do a concert against some ordinance like that, but if concerts are allowed, then I would reject any arguments against having them, on the basis of putting people at risk.  If everyone is vaccinated then it is a risk I'm perfectly willing to take, and I think it's easy to argue based on actual lived reality (in Denmark) that any potential costs are outweighed by the benefits.

Society here in the US and in most places is twice as anxious and twice as depressed as usual.  People are overdosing on opiates and other things at a massively escalated rate.  They need live concerts, if live concerts can be conducted reasonably safety (and they can), and anything else that fosters community and togetherness.

The planet is facing unprecedented doom and gloom, and thus, we need live music and other things that bring people together more than ever.  I also believe this is the case, despite the carbon footprint involved with being a touring band.  Lots of major structural change needs to happen, and musicians giving up on touring in order not to burn gasoline is not going to prevent the apocalypse.  And if those touring bands are part of building a movement that might lead to the transformation of society, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Those of us who play music for a living are aware that there are always risks involved with this business, even if no one is worried about catching viruses from performers or audience members.  The very act of touring is dangerous.  Driving is dangerous, and every time we spend another five hours driving down the highway to the next gig, we're aware of the risk we're taking in order to continue to pursue our chosen professions for another day.  Life is full of such calculations, and now with Covid we have another one, which we may just have to get used to factoring into the mix.