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Amid Delta Variant Spike, Mexico Goes Ahead With Baja Beach Fest

The largest Latin music-focused festival in the Americas to resume since the coronavirus pandemic began kicks off today in Mexico’s Rosarito Beach, with reggaeton stars Ozuna, J Balvin and Karol G among the headliners.

The six-day Baja Beach Fest, which expects crowds of up to 30,000 a day over the weekends of Aug. 13-15 and Aug. 20-22, is moving ahead despite the state of Baja California, where Rosarito is located, retrenching to “yellow” status — from “green” — in the past week amid a third wave of virus infections.

Festival organizers tell Billboard they won approval from local officials after presenting a 122-page health and safety plan that will use a “closed source” app to verify that attendees have either a valid vaccination card or have tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of either festival weekend. And the festival is requiring attendees to wear face masks except when eating and drinking.

The open-air event, which was postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic, comes as Delta variant-driven infections are spiking across the U.S. and Mexico, throwing some tour plans into question. Country star Garth Brooks said earlier this month that he is considering putting the remainder of his U.S. stadium tour on hold after his Aug. 14 show in Lincoln, Neb.

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Baja Beach represents another big test for promoters betting that verification schemes for vaccinations and negative tests will be enough to ensure that large festivals do not become super spreader events.

The Lollapalooza festival in Chicago reported last week that 90% of its estimated 385,000 attendees were vaccinated, and of those vaccinated, .0004% have reported testing positive. As of Aug. 11, there have been no reported hospitalizations or deaths linked to positive cases at the festival, the Chicago Department of Public Health said.

More than 95% of the Baja Beach attendees are fully vaccinated, Alonso Pérez Rico, Baja state’s secretary of health, told Argentine news site Infobae earlier this week. The remaining 5% can either still get vaccinated or be let in with proof of a negative COVID-19 test, he said. (Three days before the start of the festival, organizers said 90% of ticket holders had registered their wrist bands and were vaccinated and verified.)

“The verdict is still out on whether these gatherings are truly safe,” says AJ Niland, a New Orleans-based promoter whose Health Screening Solutions provides vaccine and testing services for the concert industry. “We’re in this sort of weird, precarious time where we don’t have enough historical data to really determine how these events are going to play out.”

Baja Beach founders Chris Den Uijil and Aaron Ampudia say most of the attendees are expected to come from across the border in southern California. To mitigate fraud, the festival will rely on a system that requires ticket-buyers to upload their vaccination cards into the system. Once the system verifies the card, the customer gets a push notification in their phone with a code to activate the chip inside their wrist band and enter the festival.

“Anyone can go on Photoshop and make a vaccine card or test and show it at the door,” Ampudia says. “We found this perfect way that we think is bullet proof and will be the prototype for other festivals.”

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Unvaccinated attendees must do a COVID test at Covid Clinic, which has over 100 testing locations in the U.S., most of them in California. Ticket holders have to provide their Baja Beach order numbers (which gives them a 50% discount on the COVID test price). If the test comes up negative, the result is linked to Baja Beach’s system, which activates the wrist band.

Those who are not in the U.S. can get tested in testing centers approved by the Mexican government in Rosarito and Tijuana. The festival will also provide special Baja Beach masks for those who need them.

“It was a really big financial commitment,” says Den Uijil , who declined to give exact numbers. “It wasn’t just the tech but the research and development, creating the process and the strategic partnerships.”

More than 25 Latin artists are scheduled to perform at Baja Beach Fest, including Becky G and Rauw Alejandro. The first weekend is sold out, and the second weekend is 85% sold out, according to the festival’s website. Three-day festival passes are $329, with VIP passes running $449 (they include afterparty access.)

Amid a surge in COVID-19 infections, massive concert events are not an anomaly in the Latin music world. Maluma still plans to launch a U.S. arena tour in early September. In Miami, bachata group Aventura is playing a show tomorrow (Aug. 14) at the Hard Rock Stadium and promoters say 40,000 tickets have been sold. In accordance with Florida laws, masks are recommended but not enforced for Aventura attendees. Negative virus tests and vaccination cards are also not required for ticket buyers, but are required for crew members, promoters say.

Outside of Florida, masks and temperature checks were required for ticket holders to enter the Staples Center in Los Angeles for the string of shows by Grupo Firme in July. But neither tests nor proof of vaccination were required.

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