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CDC lifts mask requirement for vaccinated individuals, posing a question for Broadway

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control announced that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks indoors.

(Photo: Matthew Murphy)

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control announced that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks indoors.

While the CDC did not comment on live theater specifically, the agency has now said it is safe for fully vaccinated individuals to sit unmasked in movie theaters, at indoor restaurants and bars and to sing in an indoor chorus. Safety protocols for the reopening of Broadway theaters have not yet been determined, but preliminary protocols had suggested that audience and staff members would wear masks for the duration of the performance.

The CDC will still require vaccinated people to wear masks on public modes of transportation, such as buses and planes, as well as in hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters. A mask requirement can still be set by individual businesses or workplaces, as well as by federal, state and local laws.

New York’s mandate to wear a mask in public is still in place, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement Thursday saying the state was reviewing the new CDC recommendation.

The safety protocols for Broadway will be set by theater owners in coordination with the state of New York, ahead of the industry’s reopening in September. The Broadway League declined to comment on the announcement Thursday.

Actors’ Equity has released interim safety protocols for fully vaccinated companies, with guidelines that require crew members to wear masks at all times and for cast members to wear masks whenever they are not performing. The union said it is now reviewing the new regulations.

“We are aware of the new guidelines and are reviewing them,” said Brandon Lorenz, a spokesperson for Actors’ Equity.

The union safety protocols for the Broadway reopening have not yet been determined.

In its announcement Thursday, the CDC also waived the requirement for social distancing among fully vaccinated individuals, which would ease the path for Broadway to reopen at 100% capacity.

While Cuomo has said he would prefer a fully vaccinated audience, the industry as whole has not yet announced whether it will be a requirement. “Hamilton” producer Jeffrey Seller told the New York Times that he will require vaccinations for cast and crew members, but not for audience members.

Producers and theater owners have the legal right to mandate vaccinations for both audience members and cast members, but the policies must be nondiscriminatory, said entertainment lawyer Ethan Krasnoo, a partner at Reavis Page Jump.

That means if an audience member or cast member is not vaccinated due to religious beliefs or a disability, the theater owner or producer must conduct a legal analysis to see if an exception should be made. The analysis includes determining whether the individual will pose a direct threat to others, due to their unvaccinated status, and if so, whether reasonable accommodation can be made, such as requiring a COVID-19 rapid test or a mask.

Mandated vaccinations for employees, such as cast members, must also be cleared with the relevant union, Krasnoo said.