Music festivals return as COVID cases rise again

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(NewsNation) — More than 125,000 people are attending attending Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival this weekend as large concerts and festivals begin to return to the U.S. after a hiatus during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The return of the masses to these staples of live music come as COVID-19 cases are beginning to rise once again in the United States.

States across the U.S., particularly in the Northeast, have seen a 30% rise in new cases of COVID-19 over the past two weeks.

How high cases will rise remains an unknown, Dr. Stuart Campbell Ray, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University, told the Associated Press.

Festivalgoers were not letting the rise in cases slow their fun at Coachella, where those in attendance were treated to an opening weekend performance by megastars Harry Styles and Shania Twain.

“I am so happy I am here right now with my best friends ever,” a Coachella attendee told NewsNation’s Ryan Bass. “We’re just having a great time.”

In February, Coachella organizers got rid of COVID-19 protocols that required a negative test, proof of vaccination or mask.

California Public Health Director Thomas Aragon said in a statement that while hospitalizations and deaths are “near an all-time low” the new rise in cases caused by the BA. 2 subvariant of the virus meant Californians must stay vigilant and “protect themselves by getting vaccinated and boosted.”

California state Sen. Richard Pan, a pediatrician by trade and chair of the Senate Committee on Health, said caution is still needed as festivals return to the country.

“I, too, feel that we would like COVID to go away, but it’s not going to go away just because we wish it to; we have to work at it,” Pan said.

At the height of the previous omicron surge, reported daily cases reached into the hundreds of thousands. As of Thursday, the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases rose to 39,521, up from 30,724 two weeks earlier, according to data from Johns Hopkins collected by The Associated Press.

Keeping the surge somewhat in check, experts said, is a higher level of immunity in the U.S. from vaccination or past infection compared with early winter.

But Ray said the U.S. could wind up looking like Europe, where the BA.2 surge was “substantial” in some places that had comparable levels of immunity.

“We could have a substantial surge here,” he said.

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