Editor’s note: Reconnecting after a traumatic year of separation and loss is a work-in-progress. KERA and The Dallas Morning News are collaborating to document how North Texas’ arts and culture scene is emerging from the pandemic. The News’ Tim Diovanni reports on the results from an informal survey launched July 30 about arts venues and COVID protocols.
In North Texas, where Dallas County just increased its COVID-19 threat level to red on Tuesday, many residents say they’re scared.
An informal survey recently conducted by KERA and The Dallas Morning News reveals nearly 72% of more than 1,400 respondents said they do not feel safe or are unsure if they feel safe attending public arts events.
“I’m part of the Pfizer study and booster study and [am] more scared now than last summer before I was vaccinated,” wrote Carlie Dorshaw-Moe of Carrollton in response to the survey.
The percentage of people who said they do not feel safe or are unsure if they feel safe in the survey marks a dramatic increase from an informal survey KERA and The News conducted in June, as restrictions were easing due to the vaccine rollout. In that survey, about 42% of more than 300 respondents said they felt unsafe about attending in-person events.
Texas is one of several states in the South experiencing a sharp spike in infection rates due to the highly transmissible delta variant. In Dallas County, the red threat level means there’s a high risk of community transmission. The last time the level was red was in March.
That same month, Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the statewide mask mandate. But now, with cases on the rise, many arts groups that stopped requiring masks are considering whether to require them again.
In the survey from KERA and The News, 72% of respondents indicated that they would like arts venues to bring back mandatory masking — even as Gov. Abbott issued an order banning any future mask mandates by governments or public school systems.
“Since I do not know what everyone else’s vaccination status is, it seems like the least harm is to wear a mask,” wrote Nannie Boone of Lewisville in response to the survey. “[Then] everyone is better protected. It’s a minor inconvenience. Other parts of the country are requiring masks.”
“Hosting local arts events is a part of my job,” wrote survey respondent Tony Green of Fort Worth, “and as things spike, I am inclined to want people who work public arts and culture events to mask back up.”
Many respondents said they’re worried about the safety of their children, particularly those under 12 years of age, who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.
“I was looking forward to attending events again and feeling safe,” wrote Wendi Mueller of Dallas in response to the survey. “But I just contracted COVID, even though I am fully vaccinated. For the sake of my children, who are still too young to be vaccinated, we will only go to places with mask mandates at this time.”
As an added safety measure, arts organizations in other parts of the country are requiring audiences to show proof of vaccination to attend events.
In New York, Broadway theaters are requiring proof of vaccinations for all performers and audience members. Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera will require vaccines when they reopen, as well, and bar children under 12 from attending performances.
Here in Texas, a law signed by Abbott in June bans businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccine or post-infection recovery status.
Yet more than 87% of respondents to the survey said they would be comfortable showing proof of vaccination if asked by arts venues.
“I would love to be able to resume a normal life — go out to see Wicked and to the clubs,” wrote Arturo Rodriguez of Dallas in response to the survey. The largest theater event in the area since March 2020, Wicked opened at full capacity this week in the Music Hall at Fair Park. Thousands are expected to attend during its one-month run.
“But I don’t trust people being honest about their vaccination status,” Rodriguez wrote. “I think having to prove that you’re vaccinated is an excellent idea.”
On the other hand, about 9% of respondents said they would not be comfortable showing proof of vaccination.
“Do venues ask for proof of flu vaccination during flu season?” asked Adam of Dallas — who didn’t provide his last name — in response to the survey. “It’s ridiculous and nobody’s business. Ask everyone to wear a mask, but don’t force people to provide personal information that benefits nobody.”
Where do you stand on these issues? Respond to the survey here.
Tim Diovanni is a staff writer reporting on classical music in a fellowship supported in part by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation. The News makes all editorial decisions.
Photographer Keren Carrión is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.
A version of this story appeared on dallasnews.com.
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