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Are people wearing masks at ACL Fest? Here's how COVID safety protocols are going on the ground

Kelsey Bradshaw
Austin 360
Alexandra Villanueva, left, and Gilbert Reyes from RX Rapid Testing walk Friday down Barton Springs Road, outside the entrance to Austin City Limits Music Festival, advertising COVID-19 testing. A negative test or proof of vaccination is required for the festival this year. “We’ve been out here since ten this morning and all day yesterday,” said Villanueva. “There were twenty people in line when we opened this morning.”

You feel the sticky air at Zilker Park. You hear the thumping of speakers. You watch teens sprint to be in the front for Billie Eilish's set eight hours ahead of time. You made it! You're at the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

But how's it going amid a pandemic? 

On the first day of the festival, Texas recorded fewer than 9,000 people in the hospital for COVID-19 for the first time since Aug. 7. The same day, Travis County showed continued improvement in hospital numbers for COVID-19. Austin remains in Stage 4 of the city's risk-based safety guidelines, recently downgraded from the highest level, Stage 5.

According to the festival's official health policies, ACL Fest attendees are required to bring either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result to get into the festival grounds.

Are people wearing masks at ACL Fest?

Masks are required in some spots at the fest, too. Signs remind fans as they get closer to stages that they are in a mask zone.

More:Everything you need to know about ACL Fest, including COVID rules

But even with the reminders, mask sightings are slim so far at the outdoor festival. ACL Fest officials said attendees would have to wear masks when indoors or in tight quarters, like at the entrance gates. But while standing in line on Friday and Saturday, only a few people wore masks.

Any festgoers wondering how the mask zones near stages might work found an answer at the Machine Gun Kelly set at 4 p.m. Friday. The pop-punk artist’s show on the Honda Stage, one of the largest in Zilker Park, drew a jostling and energetic crowd pressed tight even many yards away from the front — with hardly any masks in sight.

That proved to be the case at most sets Friday. City guidelines for large events stipulate that masks be required in areas where social distancing cannot be maintained. But anyone who's been and about on the local entertainment scene lately knows that such rules are hard to enforce. Attendees at a Gary Clark Jr. show at Waterloo Park this summer also largely eschewed the same rule.

The American-Statesman reached out to ACL Fest organizers to ask how procedures are being managed during the event. They did not provide information about enforcement, but did say that mask signage is up around the park and free masks are available.

In a tweet, festival organizers said less than 1% of attendees Friday were turned away for not having health documents, 14% brought negative COVID-19 tests and 86% showed proof of vaccination. 

In areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a mask "in crowded outdoor settings and for activities with close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated."

Vaccines offered at ACL Fest

Ascension Seton health care workers are giving shots to anyone who wants a coronavirus vaccination from noon to 4 p.m. every day of the festival during both weekends at a booth near the entrance. 

On Friday, when the festival didn't open until 3 p.m. because of a weather delay, officials still administered 18 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Most of those were booster shots, said Ruth Garcia, who works with the mobile vaccine collaborative with Travis County Precinct 4 Constable George Morales.

She said some of the vaccine customers were festival employees and other workers at the grounds before the masses arrived Friday. 

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"It's been great," Garcia said. "Honestly, we're getting a lot of numbers higher than expected."

Garcia and her co-workers make the rounds at ACL Fest, carrying signs about the vaccine availability, and she said attendees have been nothing but nice.

"People are very grateful, which is amazing," she said. "The amount of people who have passed by and said, 'Thank you for being here,' I'm amazed."

As of Friday, 80.93% of Travis County residents 12 and older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. About 70.99% of county residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated. 

Garcia said no first doses of the vaccine were administered on the first day of the fest. If a person received their first dose, they can get their second dose three weeks from now at a location specified by Travis County officials. Garcia said locations will be listed on the Travis County website

"We have not gotten one rude comment. Everyone's just so happy we're here giving out vaccines," Garcia said.

ACL Fest continues Sunday and returns for a second weekend Oct. 8-10.

American-Statesman staff writer Eric Webb contributed to this report.

Few of the fans packed in to cheer for Machine Gun Kelly at the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Friday were wearing masks.