Nightclubs part of solution for managing pandemic

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Club culture is informing creative ways for cities to reach more people to get tested, vaccinated and informed about the pandemic.

Guest receives dose of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at club Heaven’s Get Vaxxed event. Image Souce: The Scottish Sun

For many in Berlin, it is the summer of delicate hygiene concepts, sold-out open-airs and free, 20-minute rapid antigen tests that one can easily get on the way to an event. While the situation is not back to normal, Berlin’s nightlife sector has taken many strides since last year to get to this point. Last week, the city’s Clubcommission introduced two more large-scale efforts to enable a safe and responsible reopening of nightlife, further showing how the nightlife sector can be part of the solution — and not just problem — for managing the pandemic. 

On 6-8th August, around 2,000 clubgoers participated in a pilot-test study, whereby six clubs opened their indoor dancefloors for maskless, non-socially distanced clubbing. Participants, regardless of their vaccination status, were allowed into all six clubs if they passed a PCR-test administered on the Friday of that weekend. As part of the study, they were also required to take a second PCR-test the following Friday and asked to fill out two anonymous questionnaires that will be rolled out later in the month. 

The interim results for the “Clubculture Reboot” study are promising. During the first PCR-test, seven participants were caught with an infection and sent home. Almost 70% of participants got re-tested the following week, and all follow-up tests were negative. While we await for the final findings, this initiative is a good example of how nightclubs can and should be active stakeholders when working with other advocacy, government or research bodies to come up with solutions that are in the interests of their communities.

The Clubcommission also helped organise three “Vaccination Nights” during the same week, where guests could receive a free vaccine shot and stay to dance and rave. Hosted at the venue-turned-vaccination-center Arena Berlin, this event was meant to encourage more young people to get vaccinated. 

The Vaccination Nights were also meant to give back to the artists who have been working at the vaccination center. All of the DJs at the event were among the many creatives who had been employed at Arena sometime during the last six months. Due thanks to German Red Cross’ Müggelspree branch president Jens Quade, an estimated 800 of Arena’s 1000 employees come from Berlin’s arts, culture and club scenes. When looking to quickly hire a large number of people to fill up vaccination centers across the city in December 2020, he consciously turned to the creative and cultural industries to support those facing the fallouts of the pandemic.

Invitation poster for the Club Commission’s Berlin Vaccination Nights at Arena Berlin.

But Berlin is not the only city to see its clubs turn into vaccination or testing centers, or its nightlife workers join the pandemic gig economy. As part of a larger national effort to increase the vaccination rates among young people in the UK, LGBTQ+ club Heaven in London administered 1,000 Covid-19 jabs over one day, followed by plans from the Ministry of Sound to do the same. That same weekend, LIV in South Beach Miami, Florida opened its doors and offered free vaccinations to a city where many unvaccinated young and middle-aged people are quickly filling up hospital beds as the delta variant spreads across the state. And in preparation for what became a 385,000-attendee festival, Lollapalooza in Chicago hosted an event in June where they offered single-day tickets to those who received a vaccine at one of four vaccination sites, which also featured DJs spinning music from Lollapalooza artists. The city of Antwerp, Belgium, too, announced this week that they plan to do the same to ensure that more young people can get vaccinated in time for the Fire Is Gold and Ampere Open Air festivals in September. 

What all of these different examples demonstrate is how nightlife venues and workers can be a part of the solution — and not just part of the problem —  for curbing the spread of the pandemic. For one, nightlife workers have unique skills to deal with people in potentially difficult and stressful situations, which can be useful in vaccination and testing sites. Venue and events operators are also practiced in the logistics of managing and moving large crowds safely. Not only do some nightclubs have the physical infrastructure to support mass-vaccination or testing efforts, but many of them, regardless of size, already have a community that trusts and respects them. By engaging nightlife venues in similar kinds of efforts as seen in the examples above, cities can creatively reach more people to get tested, vaccinated and informed about the pandemic. 

But city-wide engagement with nightlife venues and workers needs to be equitable and collaborative. They should have an active voice in shaping the projects and policies that, at the end of the day, will affect them and their communities. With the proper financial support and training, nightclubs are in a strong position to come up with creative solutions for safe, large-scale gatherings that other communities in the city can learn from as well.