Proposed Changes to Musical Mask Policy Endanger Performers

In a joint statement from California, Oregon, and Washington’s governors, it was announced that after 11:59 p.m. on March 11, 2022, masks will no longer be required in schools throughout the aforementioned states. As of right now, Contra Costa has yet to put out a statement regarding the mask policies for the district.

Of course, the decision to drop the mask mandate was made in the face of declining case rates and hospitalizations. But that doesn’t mean the pandemic is over. Experts still hold that it is way too early to make such drastic changes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, masks should be mandated in places where the case rate is higher than 50 cases per 100,000 people, or the testing positivity rate exceeds 8%. As of February 28, Contra Costa County has a testing positivity average of 9%.

States that have already implemented such policies have already started reporting spikes in cases. In Wyoming, the Laramie County School District reported nearly 400 students and 100 staff members tested positive between January 24 and February 4, mere weeks after the school board voted to end the mask mandate.

And with the Campolindo musical’s first showing occurring the night the mandate drops, it is evident that this change in policy is not the smartest idea.

Music has suffered under the pandemic, this much is true. Whether choral or instrumental, the mandates implemented state-wide have proven detrimental to the spread of music, because of their dangerous ability to spread COVID. But that doesn’t mean we should become complacent.

Musical season at Campolindo is infamous for the massive explosion of sickness that it causes. By the end of Campo’s rendition of Phantom of the Opera in 2019, both principal casts were brought to their knees by the same case of the flu. COVID is practically guaranteed to spread.

And while this variant of corona now has relatively low hospitalization rates, no one is equipped to predict the features of the next variant. “It is true that Omicron is not likely going to be the last variant we encounter, but there is no definitive way to predict what the next one be like,” said Priya Luthra, molecular virologist and scientific director of the Infectious Diseases Research Unit at GlaxoSmithKline.
Experts have already begun to warn us about the virulence of the strain.

But what about the musical? A study directed by Colorado State University found that singing (without a mask) produced 77% more aerosols than talking. Given the fact that COVID spreads through aerosols, the consequences of singing unmasked can be deadly.

Users of the neighborhood connectivity app, Nextdoor, will recognize the petition going around, encouraging Campolindo to allow choir students to sing unmasked. “Let them sing,” the petition urges. What they fail to recognize is that the proposed changes in policy actively endanger members of their ensemble.

“If I get long COVID, I would most likely lose my ability to sing,” said 2020 Chamber Choir graduate Abby Rogers. “I really understand losing out on things. I fully lost the end of my senior year because we weren’t prepared for COVID, and I lost my freshman year of college, too. But I’ve missed a lot in my life because of my disabilities so it’s really hard for me to sympathize with people who are ignoring guidelines or writing new, more lenient guidelines against scientists’ warnings because that means they’ve decided their ability to go to a concert or hang out with people without a piece of fabric is more important than someone’s ability to go home to their dad, or hug their mom, or hang out with their sister with cancer, or go home to their dog. That, to me, is worth more than the struggle of trying to live, or sing, with a piece of cloth over my face.”

It is irresponsible to decide to be relaxed on COVID policy now, with the musical just around the corner. Certainly, masks during the production will make things harder, and will force the tech crew and cast alike to adapt to new circumstances. But it can be done.

And anyways, our duty as part of the musical is to spread joy and music. Not COVID-19.