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The problem with performing while COVID positive.

A large concert venue with an arched roof and people slowly filling the venue.
Laura Pettenuzzo

Jun 25, 2024

COVID is not over. I feel like I should get that on a T-shirt, based on how often I find myself growling it as I scroll through social media. People are still catching it and spreading it, with nary a thought for the personal and societal consequences. The “personal responsibility” narrative tells us that we’re all in charge of our own health and the choices we make around it, which is true. But there’s a limit to the effectiveness of personal responsibility when nobody else seems to give a damn.

Take Lady Gaga, for instance. As part of the promotion of her latest concert film, Chromatica, Gaga revealed that she had COVID during 5 of her shows.

According to a video uploaded to social media, she shared her condition with everyone on her team, and said, “I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable at work. You don’t have to perform, and you don’t have to work that day.” She added, in justification of her decision “The way that I saw it is the fans are all putting themselves in harm’s way every day coming to the show.”

There’s so much wrong with Gaga’s statement and the crowd’s enthusiastic response that I barely know where to begin.

Performing while infectious was a danger to her own well-being. Strenuous exercise is the worst thing anyone can do during the acute phase of COVID-19 infection and is the biggest risk for Long COVID.

As well as demonstrating no understanding of the potential impact on her own health, she was entirely too blasé about the risk for her staff and fans.

The view of a concert from the audience, partly via the audience member filming the concert on a smartphone.

She gave her staff the illusion of choice by saying that they didn’t have to work, despite the clear power imbalance between her and them. And her fans got no choice at all. Yes, they’re taking a risk by going to such a big event but there’s a difference between the possibility of exposure and the knowledge that a performer is infectious. It’s knowledge that might have led some of her fans to skip the show.

Gaga’s choice is at odds with who she purports to be. Gaga lives with fibromyalgia, an experience she has described as causing “this incredible intense pain throughout my entire body.” She is also a fierce advocate for marginalised communities.

At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, Gaga organised and performed at an event to raise money for COVID testing and treatment.

Now, as the pandemic continues, she boasts about exposing her fans to it. She didn’t want to cancel her shows and “let them down,” but she’s happy to expose them to a virus that could leave them permanently disabled or dead? Something doesn’t add up.

Gaga’s decision reveals much about her personal values and those of wider society. Working through COVID infection and praising people who do as if it is just a cold directly contradicts a growing body of scientific evidence and puts all of us – particularly immunocompromised people – at risk.

This piece is not a personal attack on Lady Gaga. She’s likely not the only performer to work while COVID positive. She just seems to be the only one boasting about it.

COVID is not over, and Lady Gaga and the rest of the world have a responsibility to act like it.