Lollapalooza, the city's largest music festival, has officially returned to Chicago at full capacity, and this time with an updated entry process and a host of new COVID-19 safety rules. Attendees are now required to enter through a three-point system: First, a "health screening" tent, where security checks for proof of vaccine or a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours; second, a wristband scanner; and third, a metal detector and bag search station.
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Though city officials have maintained that the festival's health screening procedures are sufficient to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, some doctors have expressed concern about whether the fest can accurately verify health information as more than 100,000 attendees pour through the gates each day. We decided to enter through the main gate and talk to festival-goers about what it's like to get into Lolla this year. Here's what we learned—and what to expect if you're heading through security at the fest this weekend.
Vaccine cards and negative COVID-19 tests aren't being scrutinized by security
I entered through the main gate at Michigan Avenue and Ida B. Wells Drive a little after opening at 11am, when the line to enter the festival was still fairly short. Lollapalooza ambassadors are stationed outside the health tent to answer questions and hand out disposable masks, which a few people grabbed as they passed through. "Things have been going smoothly so far," one ambassador told me. "But it's still early, so we'll see."
As you approach the health screening tent, there are big signs instructing attendees to have their vaccine cards at the ready before passing through the gates, where a handful of festival workers are standing by to check cards. Unsure of what the verification process would entail—the safety rules are somewhat vague, aside from needing proof of the vaccine card or a negative test—I grabbed my ID and vaccine card in case they planned to cross reference the two.
That turned out to be overzealous. As we got closer to watch people moving through the gates, it became clear that there isn't a particularly rigorous verification process happening at the checkpoint: Just flash your card and move on. When it came to be my turn, I held my card up for a few seconds while the worker glanced it over before waving me onward. It was quicker than having my ID checked at a bar.
Other attendees described having similarly brief experiences.
"I think they were just like, 'Yup, that's a vaccine card!'" says Morgan, a 31-year-old Chicagoan who came to the fest with her wife, Sam. Both are longtime Lolla-attendees and came prepared this year with their vaccine cards in Ziploc bags. COVID-19 is a concern—Sam is a COVID long-hauler and Morgan is four months pregnant—but they're planning to mask up when in close proximity to other people.
A trio of young women from Lincoln, Nebraska told me that the health screening process was "surprisingly efficient." They'd been concerned about the verification process—a few people in their six-person group aren't vaccinated and instead brought negative test results—but they didn't have any issues showing their documents to the festival staff.
"They didn't even really look at [my vaccine card]," says 20-year-old Kelsey.
Some attendees say the entry process is easier than in previous years
It's still early in the weekend—so take this with a fairly large grain of salt—but, so far, attendees have expressed surprise about how quickly they passed through the three-checkpoint entry. Morgan and Sam both agreed that the process was easier than in past years, and that staff were communicative and friendly. Several people told me they thought the lack of a pat-down process at the security checkpoint made the line move faster (attendees just need to go through a metal detector and have their bags searched).
Masking isn't common, but some attendees are carrying them
During the 45 minutes I spent watching attendees entering through the main gate, the majority of people I observed weren't wearing face coverings. I saw a few passersby clutching the disposable masks that Lollapalooza ambassadors were distributing at the gate, as well as some people with fabric masks around the their wrists or being worn under their chin. Of course, masking isn't a requirement for Lollapalooza attendees, unless they're unvaccinated—a rule that doesn't seem to be enforced in any way.
A young female attendee who declined to give her name told me, "I wish people would have face coverings" as she pointed to the bandana she was wearing as a mask.
Generally speaking, most of the people I chatted with expressed some degree of concern about COVID-19, especially given the emergence of the Delta variant. "I've become more apprehensive in the past week," says Katie, 38-year-old attendee from Elmhurst. Sam, the COVID long-hauler, told me she was "freaking the fuck out."
And despite the new health screening procedures, attendees are liable for their own health risks assumed by entering the fest. Signage outside the main gates on Michigan Avenue makes that clear: "By attending Lollapalooza, you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19," it reads. "Please help keep each other healthy!"