Burning Man mulling mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for August

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FILE – In this Sept. 4, 2004 file photo the crowd of thousands cheer as the Burning Man is burned to the ground, at the 18th annual Burning Man Celebration, at Black Rock Desert. Burning Man organizers are considering requiring attendees to prove they’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19 if they move forward with plans to hold this year’s counter-culture festival in the Nevada desert. But they have backed off an earlier announcement that they’d already decided to make shots mandatory, and won’t decide for sure until the end of the month whether the event that was canceled last year due to the pandemic will even take place. (Lacy Atkins/San Francisco Chronicle via AP, File)

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Burning Man festival organizers have said that they are considering requiring attendees to prove they have been vaccinated for COVID-19 if the organizers move forward with plans to hold this year’s counter-culture festival in the Nevada desert.

The organizers backed off an earlier statement indicating that they had already decided to make the shots mandatory. They say they won’t decide for sure until the end of the month whether the event that was canceled last year because of the pandemic will take place this summer.

Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell said in a video message posted on the group’s web site on April 8 that “vaccines will be required to come to Burning Man.” She erroneously said at that time that the state of Nevada requires that people have proof of being vaccinated at large gatherings.

She acknowledged last weekend in an updated statement on the group’s web site that she “misspoke.”

Citing a backlash from many long-time attendees at the annual event that draws more than 80,000 people to the Black Rock Desert about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Reno, Goodell clarified that organizers had been formulating their own guidelines on mandatory vaccinations as part of the health and safety plan they must submit to state and county officials.

“We are weighing the gravity of what that does,” Goodell said. “And we know that challenges the concept of `radical inclusion.’”

She said civic responsibility is an important part of organizers’ guiding principles but that they realize people in some countries haven’t had access to vaccines, nor have most children.

“That’s not quite figured out yet. There are plenty of people that are challenging whether it is necessary,” she said.

Goodell added: “We hear you. The question of vaccines and how to basically require them, and even from a logistical standing, frankly — all of that, we’re taking a look at.”

Goodell said organizers also have not decided whether to require or provide testing at the event.

She said they hope to reach a decision by the end of this week and at the latest by April 30.

“At this point, the government agencies involved in collaborating with us have been really super supportive and super helpful. They are not putting up any roadblocks. We are all looking at the resources to have to make it happen and get this done,” Goodell said.

Goodell said the application organizers must submit for a special use permit to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management by April 23 seeks an attendance cap of 69,000, down from the 80,000 cap approved for some past festivals.

She said current input from leaders of the largest theme camps indicate about 20% to 30% so far are committed to returning to the playa in August, which would suggest overall attendance in the range of 60,000 to 65,000.

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