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Felton Music Hall COVID-19 Outbreak Could Produce ‘Many More’ Cases.

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Jerimiah Oetting
/
KAZU News
The Felton Music Hall closed following reports of a COVID-19 outbreak linked to a July 18 concert.

  A COVID-19 outbreak that was traced to a July 18 performance at the Felton Music Hall will almost certainly get worse, according to a top Santa Cruz County health official, who is recommending that music venues consider moving performances outdoors as the highly contagious delta variant spreads.

A COVID-19 outbreak that was traced to a July 18 performance at the Felton Music Hall will almost certainly get worse, according to a top Santa Cruz County health official, who is recommending that music venues consider moving performances outdoors as the highly contagious delta variant spreads.

In addition to members of the Los Angeles-based cover band “Grateful Shred” testing positive following the concert, as many as 7 patrons have contracted the virus. But Santa Cruz County Deputy Health Officer Dr. David Ghilarducci expects that number to grow, perhaps substantially.

“We think there may be, actually, many more,” he said in an interview. “We think that there were many residents that attended from out-of-county, and we don't have direct information regarding those people. So, there's a very high likelihood that there'll be other cases.” 

Ghilarducci said 291 people were in the hall for the Sunday evening performance, or about half the facility’s capacity. He said the Health Department is trying to contact everyone who was there to urge them to get tested.

“The facility owners really did everything right. They limited capacity,” Ghilarducci said. “But it's the nature of this virus, which is just a super variant that we're dealing with right now, and twice as infectious as what we've dealt with before.” 

As a result, Ghilarducci said venue operators should consider moving performances outdoors. 

“When you're in a closed space, tightly packed with people cheering and so forth, that is just a setup for spread,” he said. 

But Felton Music Hall owner Thomas Cussins said he does not have the space or the staff to hold concerts outside. 

“It’s not a possibility to just move a show outdoors,” he told KAZU. 

The Music Hall staged a handful of outdoor concerts this summer at nearby Roaring Camp, but he said that venue is now booked with other events.

So Cussins is planning to reopen the Music Hall for live performances beginning Thursday, Aug 5. He said that in consultation with the county, the facility is installing new, hospital-grade HEPA air filters. And the venue is instituting a new policy for performers and guests: show proof of vaccination or wear a mask. 

“If you do not want to wear a mask, please show your vaccination card at the box office and you'll receive a wristband. This will help our staff to monitor the hall and not ask you about your mask during the show,” he said. “Having a mask policy like this will allow everybody to attend the hall, but in a safe manner. And we will be training security on how to enforce that, as a failure to comply with the mask policy will result in ejection from the hall.” 

Ghilarducci said that so far, the county is not requiring venues to move events outdoors, or to adopt specific policies on vaccinations or masks. 

“We know that businesses are just starting to recover. We want to make sure that we strike the right balance,” he said.

But he would not rule out stricter measures if the situation worsens. 

“We are closely watching local rates to see if we may have to do something more restrictive locally. We do have that option to do that,” he said. 

But Cussins said another shutdown—after the Music Hall was closed for 15 months—would almost certainly put him out of business. 

“We'll be out of business, as well as 90 percent of other music venues,” he said. “I think at this point, with vaccines readily available, there's no reason to shut down venues anymore, or any business for that matter. But that doesn't mean they can't be as safe as possible.”

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