(Photo: Joan Marcus)

The Broadway League and Actors’ Equity announced safety protocols for Broadway productions Thursday that require cast and crew members to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The long-awaited protocols call for weekly COVID-19 testing of vaccinated employees. Company members who are not vaccinated, including juveniles under the age of 12 who are currently ineligible to receive the vaccine, must continue to wear masks, practice physical distancing when possible and undergo testing at least twice a week. 

Individuals who are not vaccinated due to disability or a sincerely held religious belief may request an accommodation from the producer. These protocols apply to both Broadway productions and sit-down shows across the country on the League’s production contract. The Broadway League and Actors’ Equity established similar vaccination and safety requirements for touring productions. 

In an announcement Friday, Broadway theater owners set a vaccination requirement for audience members attending any of the 41 theaters, as well as the requirement to wear a mask while not eating or drinking in specific areas. 

The COVID-19 safety plan comes as Broadway prepares to reopen following more than a year of closure and against the backdrop of a rise in COVID-19 cases related to the Delta strain. “Pass Over,” which has hired an epidemiologist and put forth its own protocols in consultation with the union, is scheduled to become the first play to reopen Broadway on Aug. 4

According to protocols shared with Equity members, each production is required to employ an onsite COVID-19 safety manager who will monitor adherence to COVID-19 protocols and monitor symptoms among company members, should they arise. If an employee does become ill or tests positive for COVID-19, they must report to the COVID safety manager and then isolate until they can be evaluated by a licensed health care provider.

The protocols do not list specific steps for other company members to follow should a positive case arise. However, the agreement calls for productions to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control as well as federal and state requirements. 

The safety plan requires updated ventilation systems within the theaters, including the use of MERV-13 air filters or higher, as well as the addition of HEPA air cleaners in spaces with poor ventilation, such as in the orchestra pit or some dressing rooms. 

Backstage, dressers, make-up artists and members of the hair department are required to wear masks regardless of their vaccination status. The production should attempt to cut-down on the sharing of props and conduct frequent disinfection of those items, as well as at least daily cleaning of the venue and dressing rooms, according to the protocols. 

Stage door greetings, as well as backstage tours, are prohibited and box offices should attempt to “go cashless,” the protocols state. 

While the protocols themselves do not require vaccinated actors and stage managers to wear masks, they defer to recommendations or requirements by the CDC, as well as other health officials. 

This week, the CDC recommended that vaccinated individuals wear masks inside public places in areas with high COVID-19 case rates. New York City is currently one of those areas, but officials have not yet made a determination on whether the city or state will follow the new CDC recommendation. 

The Equity and Broadway League protocols are subject to change, depending on new guidance and COVID-19 case rates. 

“This is an important milestone on the path to getting all our members safely back to work,” said Mary McColl, executive director of Actors’ Equity. “We are grateful to the League for their partnership on these protocols. We all feel this plan is robust, adaptable to changing conditions and in line with the science. Vaccines work, and those who are vaccinated will protect both themselves and those who can’t be at this time.”