A note on getting back to live events in Madison

The guidelines Tone Madison will follow (for now) when considering coverage of in-person events.

The guidelines Tone Madison will follow (for now) when considering coverage of in-person events.

Indoor and outdoor live events are coming back with a vengeance in Madison. Here is how Tone Madison will determine whether or not we consider a given event for preview coverage. 

We will not cover:

  • Events that allow children under 12.

  • Full-capacity indoor events with no vaccination, masking, or distancing requirements, or with “honor system” vaccination requirements. No shoulder-to-shoulder stuff just yet, sorry.

  • Events involving venues and event organizers who have flouted health guidelines during the pandemic or taken risks we consider unnecessary. We may consider covering their events again as the overall public health picture improves and if these venues demonstrate a commitment to improving their practices.

  • Events involving venues and event organizers that do not provide accessible and clear information about safety measures. 

We will cover:

  • Events that require full vaccination and check vaccination cards for admission, provided that they demonstrate that artists and service staff are also vaccinated.

  • Outdoor events that have an anticipated attendance of 300 people or less, allow for multiple points of entry and exit (i.e. events in public parks without gates or lines), and minimize common points of contact like concession stands. 

  • Events at indoor venues that are extremely large and where the event has a smaller niche appeal—a concert inside the cavernous Garver Feed Mill, for instance, is indoors but has a much better chance of being safe than one at a packed bar.

  • Indoor events that allow for some reasonable distancing.

We will adjust these guidelines going forward by:

  • Loosening them as things get better.

  • Scaling back if there are significant new outbreaks.

  • Following up on any credible information we receive about COVID cases at a given venue or event organization.

On top of these safety concerns, we’ll make our decisions about what to cover the same way we always have: asking ourselves what is most compelling and what we can do with our finite capacity, and prioritizing local artists and smaller venues.

Here is why we’re adopting the above guidelines:

Masks and capacity limits are now purely voluntary in Dane County. People and businesses are officially allowed to do whatever they were doing before the pandemic. No one wants to let another Madison summer go to waste. And wow, we tried to be good sports about it but livestream shows are just kind of sad.

What is a media outlet’s responsibility in all of this? Personally, I think it’s to try and make sure that events are reasonably safe, and to avoid implying that things are completely safe if they are not. This is not about shaming or punishing people who don’t follow the exact same precautions I would, just about spelling out some specific criteria for the decisions we’re making. We can’t make rules for anyone else, but we can make some rules for ourselves. I’ve had some conversations on background with epidemiologists and public health experts of late, and that has informed the approach here.

It’s objectively getting much safer for Madisonians to go out and do things in person. Dane County’s vaccination rate is ahead of most parts of the country (keep it up, folks!), and new cases are declining. There are plenty of good reasons for most individuals to feel safe, and good reasons to think the community as a whole will be protected from another major outbreak. We also know that we’re still in a global pandemic, that there are open questions about the emergence of new COVID variants, that we can’t count on everyone to behave safely, that a large part of the population remains unvaccinated—including young children who are not yet eligible, immunocompromised people for whom vaccination is too risky, and people who simply choose not to out of selfishness and/or stupidity. 

We will likely never attain perfect, certain safety from COVID for every single person, so we have to try and find some other benchmark that’s good enough. Right now, we don’t really have solid consensus around what that benchmark would be, not even from the scientific community or from health officials. The vaccination rate is the percentage of those eligible for the vaccine who are vaccinated, not a percentage of the overall population, so as good as it is we should also not develop a sense of false confidence. Everyone’s going to have a different comfort level, and that is totally understandable.

Venues and event organizers also have a responsibility to consider the vulnerable members of our community, and to show a little sensitivity. People have been through 15 months of whiplash and uncertainty. If you’re having a hard time trusting a bit of good news, no one should fault you for that. Let’s continue to respect each other’s boundaries and give people time. And space! Space, please.

When public health officials and concert promoters say that things are fine, we should pause and ask questions. It is not our job to simply take people’s word for it, especially when those people have power and when their decisions impact the health and safety of others on a large scale. We should not let the business community set the baseline for the conversation. If you’re heading out to concerts this summer and fall, I think you should exercise some skepticism as well. If you’re giving a venue your money, ask if that place treats you like a person worthy of consideration, or like livestock with a wallet.

Even before the local health orders expired, it was not good enough for a business to simply say “we’re following all of Public Health Madison and Dane County’s guidelines.” Government regulations are not based solely on health concerns and scientific data. Instead, public health rules attempt to balance different interests, with varying degrees of fairness and success. In this case, both Tone Madison and Madison365 used public-records requests to show that the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce played a disproportionate role in shaping PHMDC’s decisions. PHMDC did a lot of good work to protect the community during the pandemic, often stepping in where the state and federal officials failed. But in light of the clear, well-documented influence of business interests on the agency, it would be media malpractice to put absolute trust in its decisions. Here’s hoping that our venues, performers, event organizers, and fellow audience members will do a better job of earning that trust.

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