Health

How To Avoid Catching COVID At Splendour In The Grass

Dr Julie Leask explains why camping might be your safest option, and why you REALLY need your third booster.

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After a COVID delay and a somewhat tepid virtual offering, Splendour In The Grass is finally just around the corner with the festival kicking off for real this Friday.

However, in an ironic twist that won’t surprise anyone that’s tried to organise an event in the last two years — the festival is coinciding with the worst COVID wave seen in Australia since health restrictions were lifted in early January, with a cocktail of ‘super colds’ and flu cases floating around too.

It’s very normal to get a novel case of ‘festival anxiety’ in the days leading up to a music festival like Splendour, with perennial fears like “have I packed enough undies?” or “do I really like that guy enough to share a tent with him for three days?” merging with the anticipation of seeing your favourite artists live.

But COVID really amplifies the normal anxiety that surrounds going to a music festival, presenting some very real and new dilemmas. What happens if you have to isolate in Byron Bay? Is it safer to book accommodation outside the venue or to share a Kmart tent with friends?

Good news: we chatted to vaccination specialist and social scientist at the University of Sydney, Professor Julie Leask, to get the lowdown on how to best avoid getting COVID at Splendour In The Grass.

The Only Shots You Should Be Thinking About Before SITG Is Your Booster Shot

If you’re only going to do one thing before heading to Splendour this year, Professor Leask stresses it’s to make sure you’ve had your third COVID vaccine.

“If you haven’t had a third dose and it’s been three months since your last dose or your last COVID infection, go and get one right now and take your grandmother along to get her fourth dose as well,” Professor Leask tells Junkee.

Leask explains that the latest variants of the Omicron have shown to be better at escaping vaccine protection than previous strains, making it critical to ensure you’re as protected as possible to avoid putting pressure on the public health system.

Also, if you’re over 30 years old, as of this month you’re also eligible to receive your fourth COVID booster, which Professor Leask recommends you take advantage of before heading to Byron.

Drugs, Masks, And Conversations With Friends

From the outset, the basics of staying safe at Splendour involve many of the same tools we’ve come to expect over the last two years — wearing a mask, vigorously employing hand sanitiser, and social distancing wherever possible. But this year’s SITG will present a couple of new challenges.

First of all, the rain. Sadly, the BOM has predicted a bunch of precipitation on the first two days of the festival, which means that crowds will likely gather under the sheltered stages to escape the deluge. Situations like this are where you should definitely be trying to wear a mask to reduce your risk of catching or spreading COVID-19.

Next up is drugs. Music festivals are synonymous with them, but they present new risks this year when considering that COVID is usually transmitted between people.

“If you’re going to take anything,” Professor Leask tells Junkee, “just remember that the way you get COVID from other people is from their respiratory secretions, basically the wet parts of your face, your eyes, your mouth, your nose.”

“So if you put something in your mouth and then give it to somebody else, then they’re more likely to get COVID from you.”

In short, while sharing is caring — it’s also a considerable contributor to spreading the virus among your friends. This logic applies to legal stuff like vapes and cigarettes too, which serves as a great excuse to inspire your scabby friends to buy their own darts. Regardless of what you’re doing at Splendour, having something to sanitise your hands with should definitely be a priority.

“Hand hygiene is really important, so take that little bottle of hand sanitiser along with you in your little dilly bag and bring it out before you’re about to eat or drink and offer it to your friends as well,” Leask says.

Finally, there’s the issue of logistics. Music festivals are an “all for one and one for all” type of experience, which sees tight friend groups pile into cars with historic rego for a weekend of shared fun — but with the threat of COVID-19 looming, if one of your mates isn’t playing by the rules it can put your whole cohort at risk.

“It’s a great idea to have a bit of an agreement with each other about how together we are going to minimise the risk of COVID and support each other” Professor Leask adds.

This means you should make sure you’re on the same page with your pals about COVID safety, lest one of your mates surprise you by rocking up to the festival maskless with the intent of raging at the Tipi Garden stage all night.

Camping At The Festival Is Safer Than You Might Think

Despite the obvious COVID risk a music festival like Splendour presents, there are many natural advantages the event has in terms of its setup. According to Professor Leask, people camping at the festival should face no more risk of catching the virus than anyone else attending.

“Camping’s actually better than staying indoors in dorms,” Professor Leask explains. “Because you’re outdoors and all that fresh air around you is more likely to blow the virus away if it’s around. Obviously, if you’re gonna be sleeping in the same tent with somebody and they’ve got COVID you’re much more likely to get it, but generally camping is a bit safer.”

“The good thing about an outdoor music festival is being outdoors means the aerosols are blowing around a lot more and dissipating. Whereas if you are in a crowded indoor event with a lot of people that you don’t normally mix with, you’re more likely to see that transmission.”

But despite your best intentions, COVID is famously very infectious. There’s a chance that even after following all the health advice you could still wake up one morning stricken with all of the tale signs of the virus — namely a runny nose, sore throat, cough, headache and lethargy. If that happens, Professor Leask’s advice is to isolate as best you can until you can you can determine whether or not you have COVID.

“If you’ve got any cold-like respiratory symptoms, stay away from others. Go and get tested, get that PCR if you can, or a RAT, but even so, just stay away while you’ve got those symptoms,” she says.

Remember, You Deserve To Have Fun

Australians endured two years of lockdowns which crippled our local entertainment industries and starved us of the simple pleasures of things we once took for granted, like seeing live music or doing shoeys.

Now we finally have a vaccine to combat COVID, the rhetoric once used to damn large-scale events like Splendour as “super spreaders” doesn’t necessarily apply anymore.

“That super spreader term was probably more appropriate when we didn’t have a lot of COVID around and you would see one person with COVID pass it on to a whole lot of other people,” Professor Leask explains.

“The good thing is that [in Australia] we have a highly vaccinated population; we have much more protection as individuals against severe disease than we would’ve had if we just let COVID go in the last couple of years.”

So with all this in mind, remember that this weekend is for you. Compensation for all those bad trivia nights you had to endure over zoom, and loveless loaves of bread baked out of boredom in bad sharehouse ovens.