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Dr. Fauci suggests theaters could reopen ‘sometime in the fall’

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the United States, told performing arts professionals at a virtual conference on Saturday that he believed theaters and other venues could reopen “sometime in the fall of 2021,” depending on the vaccination rollout, and suggested that audiences might still be required to wear masks for some time.

At the conference, held by the Association of Performing Arts Professionals, Fauci sought to assure people in the industry that the end of their acute economic pain was in sight, while emphasizing that the timeline hinged on the country reaching an effective level of herd immunity, which he defined as vaccinating 70% to 85% of the population.

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“If everything goes right, this is will occur sometime in the fall of 2021,” Fauci said, “so that by the time we get to the early to mid-fall, you can have people feeling safe performing onstage as well as people in the audience.”

The industry conference, which typically draws thousands of attendees and features hundreds of live performances, was moved entirely online this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, underscoring the seismic impact the outbreak has had on the performing arts. According to the results of a survey released this week by Americans for the Arts, a national advocacy group, financial losses nationally in the field are estimated to be $14.8 billion, more than a third of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations have laid off or furloughed their staff, and one-tenth are “not confident” they can survive the pandemic.

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Speaking to Maurine Knighton, program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Fauci said that if vaccine distribution succeeded, theaters with good ventilation and proper air filters might not need to place many restrictions for performances by the fall — except asking their audience members to wear masks, which he suggested could continue to be a norm for some time.

“I think you can then start getting back to almost full capacity of seating,” he said.

Fauci was asked about a frustration among some performing arts professionals that restaurants, bars, gyms and places of worship have been allowed to open in some states while theaters and other performance venues have remained shuttered. In response, Fauci urged them to do more research on the ventilation quality of their theaters and to explore how improving air flow might affect transmission.

He referred to a German study of an indoor concert, staged by scientists in August, that suggested that such events had “low to very low” impact on the spread of the virus as long as organizers ensured adequate ventilation, strict hygiene protocols and limited capacity.

And he suggested that the field needed more such studies. “What the performing arts needs to do is to do a little bit more of what the Germans are doing,” he said.

Fauci also said that venues could mimic rules at some U.S. airlines and require audience members to provide negative test results in order to gain admittance.

Vaccine distribution in the United States is already behind schedule, with state and local public health officials struggling to administer the vaccine to hospital workers and at-risk older Americans. Most people remain unsure when they might be able to get protected.

Recognizing the pandemic fatigue that is being felt across the country and the eagerness of artists and arts administrators to get back to work, Fauci urged people to stay vigilant about public health measures so that the industry could reopen.

“We’ll be back in the theaters — performers will be performing, audiences will be enjoying it,” he said. “It will happen.”

c.2020 The New York Times Company

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