Delta houses unwelcome surprises

Viral spread, surge in hospitalizations leaving fall events in limbo

When I started this newsletter, I hoped it would be more than “all ukuleles, all the time.” 

Mission accomplished. Now swap “COVID-19” for “ukuleles.”

After a brief step toward normalcy, the virus refuses to vanish. As it spreads seemingly unabated, its victims are filling hospitals. The inability to control outbreaks threatens the safety of in-person school and business reopenings. It also continues to pose challenges to the events, organizations, and networks that inspired me to launch SocialFabricNews.

Many inexplicably refuse vaccinations that could let them, and others, go about their business worry-free, more or less.

COVID’s Delta variant is nastier than the earlier editions. Vaccination knocks it down but not necessarily out. And unlike the first versions of the virus, Delta spreads more easily, seems to make pre-teens (too young for vaccination) sick, and is more vicious when unvaccinated teens and adults contract symptoms.

Hospitals are reaching capacity in Texas, Florida, and Louisiana. The recent surge led organizers to postpone the 81st New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, scheduled Oct. 8-17. It’s the second straight cancellation of the massive music celebration, which this year had The Rolling Stones, Lizzo, and Foo Fighters among the hundreds of scheduled performers. The event has attracted as many as 650,000 people and typically draws about half a million.

A real-time test: Chicago versus Sturgis

Lollapalooza, the massive festival in Chicago held July 29-Aug. 1, required all 395,000 attendees to provide proof of vaccination … or verification of a negative COVID test within three days of admission. Nearly 400,000 were there. National Review’s Jim Geraghty notes that, more than a week after the festival, Chicago health officials say COVID cases and hospitalizations among the relevant age group of attendees haven’t surged.

It’ll be another week before we can say Chicago pulled this off the right way, but the early returns are solid.

Meantime, as many as 700,000 are expected to attend the 81st Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. It began Friday and lasts through this weekend. No vaccination, testing, or masking required as Republican Gov. Kristi Noem continues to encourage the “you’re going to die from something” mantra that dominates the MAGA right.

We’ll see if throwing caution to the wind works.

Protocols evolve

As I mentioned Thursday, organizers of other events expect they’ll have to adapt as they protect patrons from the virus. 

DelFest, the music festival in Cumberland, Maryland, hosted by bluegrass legend Del McCoury and his family, announced last week people attending the festival likely would have to provide proof of vaccination and COVID testing for kids too young to get shots. 

The gathering in Western Maryland was postponed from March to Sept. 23-26 … the weekend in between North Carolina’s showcase festivals, Merlefest and IBMA Bluegrass Live! 

DelFest typically draws between 25,000 and 30,000 people over four days. That’s less than half the attendance of Merlefest and perhaps 15% of the expected visitors to IBMA Bluegrass Live! DelFest also takes place in an intimate, rural setting with few hotels — and walk-in camping is provided to anyone who buys a four-day pass. Close quarters for festival-goers.

Merlefest and IBMA have imposed tighter health protocols for attendees. Each festival may have to ratchet up their protections. Both are “wide open,” which poses a different set of problems than the McCourys face at DelFest.


Other than a few thousand folding chairs, at Merlefest’s Watson (main) Stage, all the space is general admission. The secondary stages have no fixed seating. Moreover, Merlefest will honor tickets bought for last year’s festival (before it was canceled) and has been selling tickets for the one scheduled next month. It’ll be hard to turn ticket holders away if they have to prove they’re vaccinated or test negative for COVID before entering.

IBMA Live’s street festival offers no reserved seating. Attendees typically enter the festival space from any of a dozen or so public sidewalks. They could be funneled through a couple of entry points to check vax status or take temperature checks, but that would cause long lines and extensive waits.

Then there are the sanitation issues (aka street food vendors and port-a-potties).

Organizers have a few weeks to hope COVID’s spread abates. Fingers crossed.