Super spreader? Blue Rock Fest a 'significant risk' to community

DANVILLE, Va. — Danville's leading medical professionals this week told the Star-Tribune/Womack News Service they believe the upcoming Blue Ridge Rock Fest, which could attract as many as 40,000 attendees per day from Sept. 9 to Sept. 12, poses a "significant risk" to the Danville-Pittsylvania County community as a potential super-spreader event.

"The rock fest is another indicator for spread of the [COVID-19] virus," said Alan Larson, Sovah Health market president and CEO of Sovah Health Danville. "I assume they are not requiring vaccination to attend, so a large group of people gathering together... it is a concern."

An increase in COVID-19 cases at the local level worries Larson as tens of thousands prepare to flood in from across the U.S. and internationally, he said.


"The hospital's recourses are fairly stressed right now because of workforce challenges," Larson said. "That is our concern at the hospital. It obviously will take several days after the event to see if there is a large outbreak."

Larson noted that he is less worried about newcomers to the area and more concerned about sheer numbers.

"There is significant risk to our community," Larson said. "It is the sheer numbers that are not vaccinated. People outside the area could be better vaccinated than us because our numbers are so low, but it's hard to tell."

Another concern of Larson's is the loud nature of the event.

"I am grateful it is an outdoor rather than an indoor concert, but still, with loud music, people speak more loudly in order to be heard, which increases the potential to share the virus as you’re speaking more loudly," Larson said.

While he could not dub the event a "super spreader," Larson did say, "It has the significant impact to be a major spread of COVID at this event."

When asked whether the event would be a "super spreader," Danville Vice Mayor Dr. Gary Miller, a longtime cardiologist in the city, said, "I think it will be."

Miller shares Larson's hospital-centric worry.

 “If somebody gets sick with COVID-19 or something else, there’s no capacity at hospitals to handle a super spreader event,” Miller said. “At that many people at that close proximity without mask and many without vaccinations, it sure will be a super spreader.”

Miller referenced astronomical wait times at emergency rooms and urgent care centers, a major community problem the Star-Tribune reported Sept. 1.


“The wait times at emergency rooms now are hours,” he said. “The problem is if anybody gets sick, we’re really at full capacity at our hospital. Most of the communities around us are at full capacity with COVID-19 and other things.”

Miller said event organizers are ill advised to hold a large-scale event amid a pandemic of this scale, especially during a regional uptick in COVID-19 cases. He said this would impact Purpose Driven Events, the entertainment firm in charge of Blue Ridge Rock Fest.

“My nephew, for example, he had tickets and I talked to him about it and he wanted to come stay at our house and bunk there with his friends and I said, ‘No way, you’re not bringing that to our house,’” Miller said. “He sold his tickets. A lot of tickets are on sale on eBay right now.”

During the festival's planning stages, Miller was on board, he said. Now, not so much.

“Two or three months ago I would have said, ‘Hey, this is great for the economy, this is great for the City of Danville, this is great for Pittsylvania County,' but not right now,” Miller said. “If someone has a non-COVID injury right or something like that they’re going to wait forever in a local emergency room.”

Miller reiterated his concerns relative to Sovah Health and Centra Health hospitals in Danville and Pittsylvania County.

“There’s no excess capacity right now. All beds are full; emergency rooms are full and wait times are long,” he said. “COVID-19 is tying up all the beds, not just here but everywhere.”

Miler shared a few thoughts with those who are determined to attend the festival this weekend.

“Just be careful, if you have to go, wear your mask,” Miller said. “You have to anticipate that at least half those people [attending the festival] have not gotten their vaccine. They’re going to be contagious. Don’t feel safe just because you’re young and outdoors.”

Miller's best advice to those attending is to get a COVID-19 vaccine and wear a mask, he said.

“We’re in a bad situation right now. This delta virus is really kicking our butts. It’s overwhelming the system,” he said. “The Delta virus seems harder on young people.”

Miller added that, as a cardiologist, he sees a dark side to the COVID-19 virus. He doesn't wish it on any festivalgoer.

“Last Thursday and Friday I had two people, 60 and 39, die of a heart attack,” Miller said. “COVID-19 clots your lungs, it clots your legs and it clots your heart. We have 20-year-olds at the hospital, but particularly 30- to 40-year-olds and 40 to 50-year olds are at risk.”

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