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Concertgoers around Tampa Bay race to find COVID tests in time for shows

Now that some shows require a vaccine or a negative coronavirus test, the window is 72 hours or less to get test results.
Clearwater native Leon Majcen shares a moment with fans following his performance during the Gasparilla Music Festival last weekend. The event joined other concert promoters in requiring vaccination cards or negative COVID tests for entry.
Clearwater native Leon Majcen shares a moment with fans following his performance during the Gasparilla Music Festival last weekend. The event joined other concert promoters in requiring vaccination cards or negative COVID tests for entry. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Oct. 7

Back in April, Roberta Houghton of Clearwater bought four tickets to the KISS concert coming to Tampa’s MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Saturday. She also picked up tickets to Monday’s Alice Cooper show there.

Six months later, concert producer Live Nation requires audience members to produce proof of a vaccine or a negative COVID-19 test for admission. Houghton missed that news when it was first announced in August.

She only got an email from Live Nation a week before the show about its new policy. Hundreds of comments on the MidFlorida Amphitheatre Facebook page also complain about what they say is late notice.

Houghton and her husband are vaccinated, as is her son’s girlfriend. But now her son is racing to get a coronavirus test in time for Saturday’s show. It will cost him $45. The policy requires the test to be no more than 72 hours old, so if he wants to go to the Alice Cooper show, he will have to shell out money for another test or line up at one of the free testing sites available.

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“I’m not necessarily upset about the policy, but why didn’t they give you a couple of months to prepare?” Hough said. “I bought these tickets six months ago.”

In August, two of the country’s largest live music promoters, AEG Presents and Live Nation Entertainment, announced they would begin requiring vaccination cards or negative COVID-19 tests starting in October. Other event producers have followed. The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa enacted a similar policy in September, as did the Gasparilla Music Festival last weekend.

Concert producers AEG Presents and Live Nation Entertainment have begun requiring vaccination cards or negative COVID tests for admission to shows. Some concert-goers were unaware of the news and are having to pay for rapid tests.
Concert producers AEG Presents and Live Nation Entertainment have begun requiring vaccination cards or negative COVID tests for admission to shows. Some concert-goers were unaware of the news and are having to pay for rapid tests.

Florida law says businesses can’t require customers to show proof of vaccination. But adding an option for a negative test is different, and the governor’s office has acknowledged that the combination makes this rule lawful.

In Jacksonville last week, a handful of Counting Crows fans were turned away at the gate because they weren’t aware of the requirement, according to the Florida Times-Union. Others opted to take an instant COVID test outside the venue for $50.

It’s not just for concerts: Canada is requiring all American travelers to be both vaccinated and to get a negative COVID-19 test for travel, and some airlines are considering a similar rule.

That leaves people needing a coronavirus test that will ensure the results come back in time. There are free options that might involve time waiting in line, and there are tests available for $25-$50 at most drug stores.

The most widely used test is called PCR (polymerase chain reaction). It is a molecular test that is generally more accurate and mostly processed in a laboratory, which takes longer. Sometimes results can come back within 24 hours, though providers usually say it takes at least two to three days.

Related: Concerts around Tampa Bay are getting canceled because of COVID demands

Some urgent care facilities have introduced “rapid PCR tests,” where customers can receive results in about 30 minutes. Those can cost $100-$200.

The MidFlorida Amphitheatre posted on Instagram and Facebook this week that it is offering rapid tests on site for $39.99.

Antigen tests, which are sometimes referred to as “rapid tests,” can be processed pretty much anywhere, including in doctor’s office, pharmacies or even at home. Be aware that some venues, such as the Straz Center and some travel destinations, will not accept home test results for entry.

The Department of Health and Human Services has a searchable database for free community testing at hhs.gov. The site includes community health centers and drug stores that offer free tests, though appointments may be limited.

“The safest bet is to use a provider that can guarantee same-day or next-day service,” said Victoria M. Walker, who writes for the travel journalism site The Points Guy. “Some providers that initially guaranteed results in 24 or 48 hours have increased their turnaround times.”