PSU health expert: Unmasked Musikfest crowds could spread COVID-19

Written by on August 11, 2021

PSU health expert: Unmasked Musikfest crowds could spread COVID-19 

By Tyler Pratt

August 11, 2021

Crowds stroll down Main Street of Bethlehem during the first weekend of Musikfest. Photo | Megan Frank / WLVR

Thousands of people in Bethlehem are attending Musikfest unmasked. A Penn State health expert says it’s likely to cause COVID-19 cases in the Lehigh Valley to go up, possibly soon.

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“We will see an uptick in a week or two of COVID positives we can attribute directly to Musikfest,” said Casey Pinto, an assistant professor of public health science at Penn State University.

Pinto said it may take one to two months for epidemiologists to be able to track how many COVID cases were a result of Musikfest. 

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Northampton County is an area classified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as having a high rate of COVID-19 transmission. Musikfest recommends wearing masks inside. 

Festival organizers said they are in close contact with the state Department of Health and city health officials about COVID safety. But photos and videos on the Musikfest social media pages show large unmasked crowds packed closely together outside, under tents and even indoors.

But Pinto said there is one big step attendees can take to help slow viral transmission: mask up everywhere.

Crowds gather in SouthSide Bethlehem during the first weekend of Musikfest. Photo | Megan Frank / WLVR

“The goal is to prevent it before it becomes a superspreader, which is the most frustrating thing from a public health perspective,” Pinto said. “We really want to prevent this from spreading and it’s as simple as asking people to mask. That is the number one thing people could do to stop the spread.” 

Vaccinated people can still get COVID-19, although it may end up being a mild case. Pinto said some folks at Musikfest may not even know they have it.   

“They get a little bit of a runny nose, Have just a little bit of a cough and say ‘This is my allergies, this is about the time of year I get allergies,’” Pinto said. “And then they go to Musikfest without a mask and then they spread it to all the people who are unvaccinated who get really sick and they end up in the hospital.”

Pinto says the unvaccinated population also includes kids under 12.

“What we’re doing is risking all of our children,” Pinto said. “So even though I may be vaccinated (if i) go out to Musikfest and get exposed (to the delta variant) and spread it to my kids.” 

Some maskless festival-goers who spoke with WLVR News said they may try to socially-distance outside. But given the large crowds in some areas, Pinto said, that may be tough to do. 

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