Connecticut arts organizations seeking to keep their venues open and their patrons safe during the latest COVID-19 variant surge were offered two words of advice Tuesday from Yale School of Public Health Dean Sten H. Vermund – vaccinate and test.
Speaking to arts representatives during an online webinar, Vermund said there is a way for the organizations to stay open and continue performances during the current outbreak and busy winter holiday season, but it’s going to require both vigilance and cooperation.
“If you want to open your arts venues or your museums for vaccinated persons, you can do what Broadway is doing, which is you have to show your vaccine card,” said Vermund, M.D., Ph.D, a pediatrician and infectious disease epidemiologist.
Venues can also allow non-vaccinated people entry, he said, as long as they can show proof that they have tested negative within the last two days. Most importantly, arts organizations must require their staff, volunteers and performers to be vaccinated to assure patrons that they are being responsible and care about their guests’ well-being.
“Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. Test, test, test,” Vermund said at the end of his remarks. “These are the powerful tools to get us out of this pandemic. We need to rebuild consumer confidence by protecting our performers, staff and patrons.”
Tuesday’s webinar was organized by the Reopen CT’s Arts Venues Task Force and the Shoreline Arts Alliance. Joining Vermund for the event was YSPH Assistant Professor Krystal Pollitt. A faculty member in the school’s Environmental Health Sciences department, Pollitt, Ph.D., is an expert on indoor air quality and also an assistant professor in chemical and environmental engineering. The pair has been providing Connecticut schools and arts organizations with public health and indoor ventilation guidance as a public service since the pandemic began two years ago.
Shoreline Arts Alliance CEO/Executive Director Eric Dillner moderated the event, which was titled Re-Opening and Beyond: Lessons Learned on How to Move Forward. Dillner also serves as chair of the Reopen CT’s Arts Venues Task Force, which has sponsored a series of COVID guidance and safety seminars for arts organizations during the pandemic in partnership with YSPH. More than 4,000 people have attended the sessions.
“The arts community has a true hunger and strong desire to open its doors, looking through the lens of science. While this program was designed for Connecticut artists and arts venues, participants have joined from our neighboring New England states and from as far away as North Carolina,” a statement on the Shoreline Arts Alliance website says.
Tuesday’s webinar began with Vermund explaining the current COVID-19 case surge, dominated by the Omicron variant, and the importance of vaccines in preventing serious illness and virus spread.
As of September 2021, unvaccinated people in the U.S. had six times the risk of testing positive for COVID-19 and 14 times the risk of dying from it compared with those who are vaccinated, according to data provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vermund also pointed to recent data from Kentucky that showed 95% of the 443 people under age 60 who have died from COVID-19 in that state since July were unvaccinated.
“This is one of the safest and most effective vaccines that has ever been developed in the history of vaccinology,” Vermund said. “You can look at the micro-level in states or you can look at foreign countries and you're going to find the same thing, that vaccination is hugely protective against death and serious disease.”
When it comes to arts venues, Vermund said current safety protocols need to continue. This includes the wearing of approved masks and making sure people wear them correctly, covering both their mouth and nose with a tight seal. Physical spacing is likely to remain important due to the Omicron variant being highly infectious. Adequate indoor ventilation and surface cleansing is also prudent.
Asked by one arts representative whether alcohol-based disinfectants are suitable for sanitizing arts spaces, Pollitt referred participants to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website, which lists appropriate disinfectants for use in such spaces.
“Cleaning before using the disinfectant is always advisable,” Pollitt said.
Installing air cleaners and making sure the venue has adequate indoor air ventilation is equally important as providing regular surface cleaning, she said.
Arts venues and organizations seeking to build consumer confidence should not be shy about sharing the steps they are taking to keep patrons safe, Vermund said.
“Communicate safety measures to the audience. Tell them what you're doing. Make announcements from the stage and on your website,” he said. “Put notes in the program. These are the things that will help build confidence among your patrons.”