California´s Coachella will kick off Friday for the first time since 2019, with hundreds of thousands of people flocking to the premier desert music festival, as the United States sees Covid-19 cases edge up.
The mammoth event that takes place over two three-day weekends -- and this year features Billie Eilish, Harry Styles and the Weeknd with EDM stars Swedish House Mafia as headliners -- traditionally kicks off the year´s summer concert circuit.
Coachella´s 2020 edition was scrapped as the coronavirus pandemic came into full force, and two years of chaotic cancellations, rescheduled shows and lineup shakeups ensued.
As it returns after a three-year hiatus, Coachella is considered a bellwether for the multi-billion-dollar touring industry that´s still on shaky ground after persistent pandemic setbacks.
After other large-scale festivals including Lollapalooza last year required proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 result, Coachella this winter announced it would not require any such mitigation measures, including masks or social distancing.
The festival is held mostly outside, welcoming some 125,000 revelers daily from all over the nation and abroad, many of whom camp and fill up hotels nearby.
There will be two testing sites on festival grounds. Jose Arballo -- a senior public information representative for the public health department of Riverside County, where Coachella takes place -- said there also would be bolstered testing facilities nearby.
"Any time you have large groups of people gathering in public settings there´s some issues there -- but we´re hoping that more people will be vaccinated... and that more people will wear masks anyway," he told AFP.
"If people aren´t feeling well, even if it might cost them something financially, we hope they can forgo going."
Arballo said that case numbers in the county had "plateaued in the last couple weeks," but "other people will be coming in from all over the country and other places in the world where maybe the case rates aren´t that low."
He also noted that unreported at-home testing has possibly skewed case rate data downward, and anticipated the county would be able to assess the festival´s public health impact by the middle of next week -- just ahead of the festival´s second string of dates.
Nationwide, Covid-19 cases are down sharply from where they were in January but recently have started ticking up, with the United States averaging approximately 38,000 cases a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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