Broadway theaters to require COVID-19 shots and masks when shows reopen

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FILE PHOTO: Performers take part in a pop up Broadway performance in anticipation of Broadway reopening in New York City

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Broadway audiences will need masks and proof of vaccination when shows reopen in the fall, an industry association said on Friday, while the Metropolitan Opera plans to bar children under 12, who are ineligible to be inoculated against coronavirus.

All of New York's 41 Broadway theaters are mandating documentation of full vaccination before allowing indoor entry to patrons, performers, backstage crew and theater staff for all shows, the Broadway League said in a statement. Masks are required for audience members.

The announcement comes just weeks before most Broadway theaters reopen after a 16-month COVID-19 shutdown. With the fast-spreading Delta variant picking up speed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week recommended a return to indoor mask wearing even by vaccinated people.

The policy on Broadway will stay in effect through October, and theaters may relax the rules in November "if the science dictates," the league said.

Many Broadway shows reopen in September, with "Pass Over" raising the curtain on Aug. 4 at the August Wilson Theatre. Proof of full vaccination was already required to get a seat at Bruce Springsteen's solo show, which opened on Broadway in June.

"A uniform policy makes it simple for our audiences and should give even more confidence to our guests about how seriously Broadway is taking audience safety," League president Charlotte St. Martin said in the statement.

Theaters will make exceptions for children and people with a medical condition or closely held religious belief that prevents vaccination, the league said. Patrons must show proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of the performance start time, or a negative COVID-19 antigen test taken within 6 hours of the performance start time.

Some of the city's other preeminent performing arts centers, including The Met, are fully barring children under 12 and making masks optional for the audience.

"As soon as children under the age of 12 become eligible to receive a vaccine, fully vaccinated children will be welcomed back to the Met," the iconic opera house said in a statement.

Both Broadway and the Met are opening at full capacity rather than partially to enforce social distancing, with Broadway theaters ranging in size from 600 to 1,000 seats and the Met seating 3,000, The New York Times reported.

"As we get ready for Broadway's big comeback, the entire theater community is committed to the highest level of public health standards," Nick Scandalios of The Nederlander Organization, a spokesman for theater owners, said in a statement.

"We're all eager to welcome our many patrons and fans back to the magic of Broadway."

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; additional reporting by Maria Caspani and Jill Serjeant; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Aurora Ellis)