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Arts & Culture

Treefort Organizers Expect No Impact To Hospitals As Festival Opens This Week

James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio
People gather to hear Rubblebucket at Treefort's main stage in this 2019 file photo.

Organizers for Treefort Music Fest say they’re holding the safest event they can as hospitals fill up with COVID-19 patients.

All festival goers will need to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to get into several indoor and outdoor venues in downtown Boise when it gets underway Wednesday. They’ll also be required to wear masks.

Eric Gilbert, one of Treefort’s co-founders, said he understands the pushback he’s received since the state authorized crisis standards of care for all hospitals last week.

But, “it’s not an all or nothing game,” Gilbert said. “It’s not the wild west or full shutdowns. That’s not the options that we should be considering at this point. We need to understand how to adapt.”

Hospital beds in the state are dwindling under a surge of COVID patients and healthcare leaders have urged organizers to cancel large events.

St. Luke’s executives said every bed in the hospital could be filled with a COVID patient by the end of the month during a press conference last week outlining the dire situation facing area hospitals. Dr. Steven Nemerson, Chief Clinical Officer for Saint Alphonsus was asked at the same press conference if large events were safe to attend.

“The short answer is no, it’s not safe to have those events, but we don’t know that we can change the trajectory,” Nemerson said.

In authorizing crisis standards of care for the entire state last week, Idaho health officials will let hospitals ration care. Surgeries to prevent certain cancers from metastasizing or procedures to fix injuries that aren’t life-threatening have been cancelled.

St. Luke’s executives said they’re sending patients who normally would’ve been admitted to the hospital home to recover instead.

Gilbert points to Treefort’s vaccination policy as a way to mitigate serious spread of the coronavirus. A popup vaccination clinic will be available, as well as rapid testing – all for free.

Nearly all ICU patients admitted at St. Luke’s with COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Fully vaccinated people are much less likely to need hospital care if they do experience a breakthrough case.

About 200 COVID-19 cases were linked to the music festival Lollapalooza in Chicago this summer out of 385,000 fans. That festival also required attendees to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test to get in, though it was largely outside.

Gilbert also said people have rarely gotten hurt at Treefort in the past. No one has been sent to the ICU from Treefort before, he said, and he doesn’t expect emergency rooms will be pushed to the limit with festival goers.

By halting ticket sales, Gilbert expects a 30% drop in attendance. Two years ago, the festival counted about 24,000 people attending shows over five days. Organizers expect a loss to the balance sheet this year by putting on the event, with Gilbert saying it's "not some sort of money grab."

If they scrap the festival, he said it would be a big blow to people who follow public health guidelines along with other ripple effects.

“It could potentially do more harm than good in the sense that it sends the wrong message that vaccines don’t work or masks don’t work.”

Treefort Music Fest Kicks off Wednesday and runs through Sunday.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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