How safe is it to be taking part in art exhibitions in 2020?
I am sure many of you are wondering the same thing: Should I take part in that exhibition or should I just walk away? Currently, there is no definitive answer but let’s take a closer look. Many artists I know are taking part in exhibitions which are being put on, and staffed by, commercial companies. You need to apply to take part, and, if you are selected, you turn up with your work and they hang it and staff the exhibition.
In this instance, everything is pretty straightforward. Everyone is asked to wear a mask. Hand sanitizer is in abundance and there is no contact with the public. You go home and wait to be told if you have sold (or not) and at the end of the exhibition any unsold pieces will need to be collected. Simple.
The next level up, events-wise, are the group exhibitions. A number of local art groups are still looking to have exhibitions this year. I am involved with two. I have turned down one flat but, as a committee member, walking away from the other one is less easy. I will support the majority decision, man the exhibition and do all that I normally do but have made my feelings clear.
The preparations for both art group exhibitions are similar. Less work will be displayed, fewer people will be on hand to staff the event, refreshments will not be served, and people will be instructed to maintain their distance. A one-way system will be set up and, while doubtless someone will decide they know best and will ignore all the instructions, the organisers will maintain a high level of responsibility.
The last type of exhibition is the large art fairs. Here, the organisers will doubtless put in place all sorts of safety measures but artists will be running their own stands and having to deal with people without having any authority to make them wear masks, clean their hands etc. It is at these large exhibitions I feel both artists and visitors will be most vulnerable, assuming visitors decide to come out and risk their health to look at paintings.
I am fortunate that one of my sons is a scientist and is able to guide me through all the data out there, make some kind of sense of it all and ensure that the sources are reliable.
So, as we know the virus is spread through respiratory droplets which, generally, are released when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is known that these droplets usually fall with a few metres of the infected person, which is why we have been told to stay 2m apart where possible.
There are concerns that activities like singing or heavy breathing, e.g. through exercise, may increase the distance of droplet spread and that when falling onto cardboard, plastic and stainless steel, the virus could be viable for up to five days.
Unlike SARS and MARS, Covid-19 is spread by people who are pre-symptomatic who, it is thought, would be infectious for one to three days before symptoms are seen and more worrying 40%-50% of cases may be attributable to transmissions from asymptomatic or presymptomatic people (Fauci et al., 2020; Gandhi et al., 2020).
The median incubation period, from exposure to symptom onset, is approximately four to five days, and 97.5% of patients who are symptomatic will have symptoms within 11.5 days after infection. Symptoms may include fever, cough, sore throat, malaise, and myalgias.
As we all already know, the high-risk category for contracting health complications is people over 65 years old with “cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.” (Gandhi et al., 2020)
“Evaluation and management of Covid-19 is guided by the severity of the illness. According to initial data from China, 81% of people with Covid-19 had mild or moderate disease (including people without pneumonia and people with mild pneumonia), 14% had severe disease, and 5% had critical illness. Patients who have mild illness usually recover at home, with supportive care and isolation in accordance with guidelines. Patients who have moderate or severe disease are usually monitored in hospital.
There are no approved treatments for Covid-19; thus, people with Covid-19 should be referred to clinical trials.” (Gandhi et al., 2020)
It is still not fully understood how many asymptomatic and presymptomatic carriers exist, as testing does not account for these fully, thus it is unclear how the infection rate will be affected in a community. It is also unclear if it is possible to contract Covid-19 multiple times, although one school of thought is that having the antibodies may prevent a re-infection.
So, having understood the situation this next bit is why I believe we should all be very concerned. We all know the USA has been poor to negligent in their handling of the virus but even with this knowledge the facts about child transmission are something we really need to consider. So far, we have been told that younger people are generally not affected, and school children are not affected at all.
The reality is quite different. Children in the USA have gone back to school and schools are taking social distancing seriously, even if the government is not. I suspect that living in such a litigious society school boards want to ensure that they cannot be sued for failing to keep the children safe.
Only 10% of school children in the USA have been tested but of those, 40% have tested positive for presymptomatic or asymptomatic (AAP et al., 2020). 40% is huge. If 40% of the schools population is infected and they are in contact with each other, their teachers and admin staff, those children will be bringing the virus home to their siblings, parents and the most venerable group, their grandparents.
Children have a high viral load, which means that their bodies can deal with many viruses at the same time and their bodies cope. They may appear a little under the weather but not much more. They still, however, carry the full virus and older people will suffer.
But, I hear you say, that’s in the USA, it won’t be the same here. We are being more careful. Are we? Children in Scotland have already gone back to school and they are seeing an increase in cases there. Children in England go back to school in September and, whilst the government is talking about shutting pubs when the children go back, they are not really dealing with the problem. The problem will be the children and as yet we haven’t even finished the first wave before we even need to consider how dangerous a second wave would be.
So, to come back to my initial point, i.e. why I feel it is not worth taking part in social art events. Come September, thousands of young people will be cooped up in class rooms, with poor ventilation, heating turned up far too high and thousands of virus carrying children coming into contact with teachers, bus drivers, shop owners, parents, and grandparents, to name but a few.
We may all have been frightened when this virus first raised its ugly head but I suspect that was merely the tip of the iceberg, and with so much uncertainty, proactive measures, i.e. staying at home, would seem to be the most sensible action.
So, should these art exhibitions still go ahead? In my opinion to put people’s health at risk for the sake of an art exhibition (and believe me I want to be doing these shows it’s how I make my living) I feel this is irresponsible, so my answer is no.
Stay safe everyone.
AAP and CHA – Children and COVID-19 State Data Report 7.30.20 FINAL.pdf, n.d. https://downloads.aap.org/AAP/PDF/AAP%20and%20CHA%20-%20Children%20and%20COVID-19%20State%20Data%20Report%207.30.20%20FINAL.pdf (accessed 8.19.20)
Advice for the public on COVID-19 – World Health Organization [WWW Document], n.d. URL https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public (accessed 8.19.20).
Fauci, A.S., Lane, H.C., Redfield, R.R., 2020. Covid-19 — Navigating the Uncharted. New England Journal of Medicine 382, 1268–1269. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMe2002387
Gandhi, R.T., Lynch, J.B., del Rio, C., 2020. Mild or Moderate Covid-19. New England Journal of Medicine 0, null. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMcp2009249
Additional reading data from the World Health Organization (WHO)
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