UPDATE: At 4:03 p.m. on Tuesday, March 10, Goldenvoice sent out an email confirming that Coachella would now take place on October 9, 10, 11 and 16, 17 and 18. Stagecoach will take place on October 23, 24 and 25, 2020. Information regarding this was added to the story immediately afterwards.
The screenshot has been doing the rounds on social media for days. A coronavirus-related post by Atlantic journalist and M.D. James Hamblin that says: “Italy has banned weddings and funerals for 16 million people. Japan has closed schools for a month. France and Iraq have banned public gatherings. The UN has canceled all physical meetings to address climate change. Americans are uncertain what to do about Coachella.”
The Hamblin tweet is supposed to be an indictment of just how far out of whack America’s priorities are in the face of a health threat that is already within our borders. After all, at the time of writing, the CDC is reporting that 19 Americans are dead and 423 people in 36 states are infected. Other sources are reporting much higher rates of infection than that. CNN says there are “at least 180 cases and 22 deaths” in Washington alone. (Pearl Jam has canceled all tour dates through the end of April as a result.) Regardless of who you ask though, the only other state suffering the same rate of infection as Washington is (*checks notes nervously*) California.
Though complaining about festival cancelations can seem totally frivolous under the circumstances, there are plenty of valid reasons to be worried about it that don’t include being sad about missing Calvin Harris. Make no mistake, the financial repercussions of canceling these huge annual events are gigantic. The just-announced shut down of SXSW 2020, prompted by the city of Austin declaring a public health disaster, is totally monumental. Not just because it’s the first time the festival has been canceled in its 34-year history, but also because it demonstrates that no large event is currently too economically valuable to close. Consider how often we see public health prioritized over money in America and it really is an astounding turn of events.
What’s more, if SXSW with its 400,000 attendees, 2,000 artists and $355 million revenue can be canceled, there’s absolutely no reason why Coachella’s 200 artists and $115million revenue can’t be shut down as well. It would be wise at this point to assume that it will be — and not just because 17,500 people are publicly asking for that to happen, via Change.org. “Let’s protect ourselves and California residents by doing the right thing before it’s too late,” the petition implores.
Festival planners have been scrambling since Sunday night to see if Coachella and Stagecoach can be moved to October, and it’s fairly safe to assume that that’s the best case scenario — for finances and fans alike — currently on the table. Coachella takes place in Indio, Indio is in Riverside County, and Riverside County has already declared a state of emergency thanks to at least 4 cases of coronavirus. Under the circumstances, it seems like simply too much of a health (and potential legal) liability to have 50,000 people converging every day and rubbing up against each other. Even if they are shouting “Fuck you! I won’t do what you tell me!” at a Rage Against The Machine reunion.
(In fact that is indeed the case, with Goldenvoice sending out a statement on Tuesday saying: “At the direction of the County of Riverside and local health authorities, we must sadly confirm the rescheduling of Coachella and Stagecoach due to COVID-19 concerns. While this decision comes at a time of universal uncertainty, we take the safety and health of our guests, staff and community very seriously. We urge everyone to follow the guidelines and protocols put forth by public health officials. Coachella will now take place on October 9, 10 and 11 and October 16, 17 and 18, 2020. Stagecoach will take place on October 23, 24 and 25, 2020. All purchases for the April dates will be honored for the rescheduled October dates. Purchasers will be notified by Friday, March 13 on how to obtain a refund if they are unable to attend.”)
Meanwhile, RuPaul’s DragCon 2020 has just announced that is canceled, with organizers saying in a statement: “DragCon‘s first priority is always the health and safety of everyone involved and we’ve been actively tracking the situation around the coronavirus. The situation in California (and the world) is rapidly changing, with new information coming out every day. Unfortunately, there’s no way for anyone to know what the situation will be like in May. Due to that uncertainty, and out of an abundance of caution, we’ve decided that it’s in the best interest of the talent, staff, and attendees to cancel RuPaul’s DragCon LA 2020. DragCon LA will return in 2021, better than ever.”
And while this all might feel terribly disappointing for ticket holders, it’s also worth remembering that more than 108,000 people around the world have contracted coronavirus and more than 3,800 of those people have died. That figure is likely to get much, much higher. And while we all have at least one Facebook friend trying to argue that regular flu is more dangerous, that simply isn’t true. The World Health Organization has made it clear that there is a 3.4 percent chance of dying from the coronavirus, versus less than 1 percent from regular flu. If coronavirus was in as many places as regular flu, all those armchair experts would see very quickly that it is, in fact, significantly more dangerous. While for many it’s easy to witness people panic-buying toilet rolls and canned goods with an inherent air of (“are they serious?”) comedy, it is fair to say that exercising an abundance of caution in the midst of this virus is ultimately the right thing to do.
Let’s not forget that 1918’s flu epidemic killed 50 million people, entirely unaided by commercial air travel. Better that we shut down festivals and large gatherings now, before we have a full-blown zombie apocalypse on our hands. Not that any of these sensible decisions provide comfort (or financial support) to the thousands of bands, road crew, event staff, restaurant owners, hotel proprietors and the multitude of other businesses that reap the rewards of festival season every year. There can be no doubt that the financial toll of this is going to hit hard. (This week, Wall Street has already had its worst day since the 2008 financial crisis.)
To conclude, let’s go back to James Hamblin, that doctor/journalist who thinks America is not reacting quickly or seriously enough to coronavirus. “I’m feeling a significant rift but shared ennui between people in the general public who seem reluctant to believe this is actually happening,” he tweeted Monday, “and people who study infectious disease outbreaks who are like, yeah we’ve been saying for decades that this would happen.”
Hamblin also points to a parade that Philadelphia threw in 1918 in support of the war effort. “Within 72 hours of the parade,” The Smithsonian reports, “every bed in Philadelphia’s 31 hospitals was filled. In the week ending October 5, some 2,600 people in Philadelphia had died from the flu or its complications. A week later, that number rose to more than 4,500.” And if that doesn’t make you feel better about skipping Coachella next month, nothing will.
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