Flaming Lips Use of Plastic Bubbles at Concerts Leave Covid-19 Experts Unsure

The Four Percent

There are Covid-19 bubbles — small clusters of friends or family who agree to socialize exclusively with each other during the pandemic — and then there are the kinds of bubbles the Flaming Lips used at recent concerts.

Band members and concertgoers rocked out and bounced while encased in large individual plastic bubbles amid bright swirling lights in trippy scenes at concerts on Friday and Saturday in Oklahoma City.

The band has taken the elaborate precautions at its live performances to protect against the transmission of the coronavirus, but some health experts were unsure about the effectiveness of those measures.

“I’d need to see how the air exchange was occurring between the outside and the inside of the bubbles to be able to say if it were safe over all or reduced risk of transmission,” said Dr. Eric Cioe-Peña, director of global health at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

Some health experts had concerns about users’ safety inside the bubbles.

“There is no evidence about the efficacy — or lack thereof — of these bubbles from an infectious disease transmission point of view,” said Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health.

He said that virus transmission control depends on good air circulation and filtration.

“So, in theory, if air filtration is good, protective barriers can helpfully augment and reduce risk of transmission, but I would be hesitant to attend a concert in a bubble at the moment unless this has been assessed further,” he said.

Dr. Cioe-Peña said the plastic bubbles used at the concerts seemed to be unventilated. But if each of the bubbles “had a bidirectionally filtered air supply,” he said, “this would effectively prevent Covid transmission between bubbles.”

While a plastic bubble could help reduce exposure to “infectious agents” if it is filled with filtered air, it could also lead to raised carbon dioxide levels inside the bubble, said Richard E. Peltier, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“My recommendation would be to add a small CO2 sensor to the bubble,” he said. “Though they aren’t always the most precise, they should be sufficient to tell a concertgoer that it is time for a break and refresh that stale air. And then get back to enjoying the music safely.”

At least 48 new Covid-19 deaths and 2,941 new cases were reported in Oklahoma on Sunday, according to a New York Times database.

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