Vaccination and masking requirements, long gone in many parts of the country, have been falling away in New York City; on March 7, the city dropped rules requiring proof of vaccination for indoor dining at restaurants, for example. Other settings, including movie theaters as well as some comedy, sports and concert venues, have opted to drop masking requirements. Masks are still required on subways and buses, as well as at indoor subway stations, but anecdotal evidence suggests compliance has been dropping.
Virus cases have recently been rising in New York City, but the number of new cases remains well below the levels at the peak of the Omicron surge.
Broadway has decided to preserve the masking requirement, given the size of its audiences (seating capacity ranges from 585 at the Hayes, where “Take Me Out” is playing, to 1,926 at the Gershwin, which houses “Wicked”), the length of its shows (the longest, at three and a half hours, is “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”), the tightly packed seats (many of the theaters were built a century ago), and the makeup of its audience (traditionally, 65 percent tourists, although there are more locals now given the pandemic’s impact on travel).
Theater owners say audiences have mostly embraced the requirements — there have been occasional disputes over mask wearing, but they have been far less common than on airplanes, for example, and for the most part patrons seem to have accepted the protocols.
Dropping vaccination verification will save producers money: Paying workers to check proof of vaccination has been one of several Covid safety measures that have driven up running costs for Broadway shows.
Some New York City performing arts institutions have stuck with more restrictive audience protocols. The Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall, for example, continue to require proof of vaccination (but have dropped requirements for proof of a booster shot) and masking.
The coronavirus pandemic, which in March 2020 led to a lengthy shutdown of Broadway theaters, has continued to bedevil the industry since theaters began to reopen last summer. In December, the arrival of the Omicron variant prompted multiple shows to cancel performances; this month, the arrival of the BA. 2 subvariant forced four shows to cancel performances after stars including Daniel Craig, Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker tested positive.