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Officials: Blairs festival attendees come down with COVID-19; some were sick while they rocked out

DANVILLE — Not only are cases popping up linked to a Blairs rock festival that drew about 33,000 daily, but some health districts are reporting people attended the 4-day event knowing they were sick.

As of Friday, there were at least 18 infections in people who descended in historic numbers on Pittsylvania County for the Blue Ridge Rock Festival from Sept. 9-12, Chris Andrews, an epidemiologist with the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District, told the Register & Bee on Friday. Most of those were discovered from interviews outside of the local health district.

“We’ve heard from other districts that some of these BRRF-associated cases were clinically ill before they arrived at the festival but chose to stay due to mild signs,” he said. That goes counter to health experts’ warnings to isolate from others when symptoms of COVID-19 develop in an effort to not spread the virus.

Heather Conner, another epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health, confirmed four cases from the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District, 10 from the West Piedmont Health District and another four from the Prince William Health District.

“All of these stated in the case report that they attended the rock festival, but that does not mean they contracted the virus from being there,” she said.

With an incubation period anywhere from 2 to 14 days, the origin of the exposures creates uncertainty for health workers, Andrews explained.

Before the musical endeavor — that clogged area roadways and forced Pittsylvania County officials to take over operations outside of the gate — Dan River Region health officials warned such an event could serve as a Petri dish for spreading infections.

“Given the rapid spread of the delta variant, there are significant concerns about the upcoming Blue Ridge Rock Festival further contributing to the rising number of cases we are seeing in our area and across the region,” Alan Larson, market president for Sovah Health and CEO of Sovah Health-Danville, said in a statement to the Danville Register & Bee. “Sovah Health strongly recommends that our community members stay vigilant in wearing masks, social distancing and frequently washing their hands.”

Photos showed a sea of maskless fans huddled together shoulder-to-shoulder as dozens of bands performed.

“Just as people came from many places for this festival, it is quite likely that several brought the virus with them,” Dr. Scott Spillmann, director of the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District, said. “We had advised widespread usage of masks but could not enforce this as there is currently no mask mandate and no emergency declaration.”

However, Spillmann was quick to note that not all upper respiratory illnesses are COVID-19.

“For example, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is most common in the winter, but has become widespread in the country during the summer once masking was no longer required,” he told the Register & Bee via email Friday. “These symptoms can easily be confused with COVID-19.”

Spillmann said his department will continue to investigate and trace COVID-19 positive cases from the festival once they are notified.


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