Janet Mager was eager to attend her first concert of the year Tuesday evening, which happened to be held in the first week of the state’s outdoor mask mandate to protect people against COVID-19. Mager, a retired Bend resident, wore her mask and was curious to see how fellow concertgoers would respond to the mandate during a performance by the band Chicago at the Athletic Club of Bend’s Clear Summer Nights concert series.
In line to enter the concert, nearly everyone wore a mask, Mager said. But once the music started, the vast majority of people took off their masks, she said. Signs had been posted at the venue about the mask mandate, and staff issued mask reminders over the public address system.
But nobody listened, Mager said.
“It really was not taken seriously at all,” she said. “Over 70% of the people were not wearing masks.”
Mager worries the lack of face coverings will continue over Labor Day weekend, when major outdoor events are scheduled in Bend and across the state.
Bend’s Les Schwab Amphitheater is hosting nearly sold-out concerts Saturday and Sunday for musician Brandi Carlile and Monday for Death Cab for Cutie. Each concert will test the amphitheater staff’s ability to monitor Gov. Kate Brown’s mask mandate.
“I just want people to feel a little bit more urgency in doing the right thing,” Mager said.
State and local health officials are reminding people to take precautions seriously over the holiday weekend as COVID-19 cases continue to surge due to the delta variant. The Oregon Health Authority reported 2,379 new cases Friday. The state’s outdoor mask mandate is in place for large events where physical distancing is not possible and regardless of vaccination status.
“COVID hospitalizations are at their highest level since the start of the pandemic, and our hospital systems are under significant strain,” said Delia Hernandez, an OHA spokesperson. “We urge people to find ways to celebrate safely this weekend.”
Morgan Emerson, spokesperson for Deschutes County Health Services, said it’s important for people to be vigilant, even outdoors, because the delta variant is significantly more contagious.
“We’ve seen local venues take proactive precautions to require vaccinations or negative tests, which is an important step to preventing the spread of COVID-19,” Emerson said.
In recent weeks, musicians, concert promoters and the governor announced a number of polices to protect concertgoers from the delta variant.
Brown’s outdoor mask mandate, issued Aug. 27, was the only rule in place at the Clear Summer Nights concert Tuesday.
The concert did not require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test, but that policy changed the next day and those requirements will be in place for the remaining concerts this summer, according to the venue’s website.
The Athletic Club of Bend directed questions about the change in policy and how it will handle the outdoor mask mandate to the Clear Summer Nights promoter, Sionna Productions, which didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Clear Summer Nights recently posted its COVID-19 policy information on its website, www.clearsummernights.com/#covid. The website explains how the venue waited until September to require proof of vaccination or a negative test to allow time to set up the on-site testing and to give time for any unvaccinated attendees to get their shots.
Les Schwab Amphitheater began requiring proof of vaccination or negative tests Sunday, the day of its first concert under the state’s outdoor mask mandate.
On Friday, the amphitheater decided to offer refunds to ticketholders concerned about COVID-19 for all concerts, said Beau Eastes, marketing director for the Old Mill District and Les Schwab Amphitheater.
Starting this weekend, the amphitheater will start hosting its biggest concerts of the year through mid-October. Eastes said the amphitheater staff will do what it can to enforce the outdoor mask mandate, but acknowledged it can be difficult for staff to monitor a sold-out crowd of 8,000 people.
Staff members make sure concertgoers have a mask when they enter the amphitheater and check their vaccination status or negative test, he said. Then, staff remind people to wear masks during the concert.
“Our staff is doing their best to make sure everybody adheres to all state laws and state mandates,” Eastes said. “They are doing everything they can in their power.”
Mager plans to attend a Les Schwab Amphitheater concert over the holiday weekend and another Clear Summer Nights concert. She hopes to see more people wearing masks while they enjoy the live music.
Mager said people have a choice to attend a concert during a statewide mask mandate, just like they have a choice to get vaccinated or not.
“You have the choice of going to the concert with a mask or not attending the concert,” she said. “That’s your choice. But you can’t have it both ways.”