Some Valley Venues Take COVID Rules into Their Own Hands

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — As the summer flareup of COVID-19 cases continues and the live event industry begins its transition to indoor-only concerts, all eyes are on the mask and vaccination rules.

Will guests be required to show proof of a vaccine or a recent negative test for admission? Will masks be made mandatory even if they do?

It’s evolving by the day, but many venues are already requiring vaccines or negative tests, and mandatory mask-wearing is also starting to show up.

The state of Ohio has yet to make any changes to its rules, meaning that neither masks nor proof of a vaccine or negative test are required for entry. At present, the state is asking that people who are not vaccinated wear a mask in all indoor public places, but not mandating it.

Venues that are taking matters into their own hands so far include The Hopewell Theatre in Youngstown, which announced that when its season begins on Sept. 3, all members of the audience will be required to wear a mask regardless of vaccine status.

Youngstown State University is mandating masks in all of its buildings, and that means the theaters in Bliss Hall.

Earlier this week, Westside Bowl in Youngstown, which runs a heavy schedule of live music, announced that it will require proof of vaccination or a recent negative test for admission. Anyone who cannot show proof of either will not be admitted.

Westside Bowl is part of a group of 14 smaller music venues in northeastern Ohio – and the only one in the Mahoning Valley – to implement the policy, which will go into effect no later than Sept. 7. The list includes Beachland Ballroom and The Agora in Cleveland, and Musica in Akron.

Cindy Barber, co-owner of Beachland, said many national touring bands are now requiring that venues have a policy of only vaccinated staff members on site during their show and that patrons also prove they have been vaccinated or are COVID negative.

The club owners struggled financially during the 14-month shutdown that ended this summer, and the new requirement is designed to keep people safe and ensure that another shutdown does not occur.

“This policy may help keep our schedules mostly intact,” Barber said. “As northeast Ohio venues, we all want to have the same base policy so our fans can understand and feel protected when they come out to support live music.”

JAC Management, which operates Covelli Centre, The Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre and Packard Music Hall, is following state and city mandates and not requiring any further action by ticket-holders at this time. But it will monitor the pandemic situation and could make changes if needed, said Eric Ryan, president of the company.

JAC’s promotion arm, JAC Live, books most shows at the venues. But an outside promoter, or the artist himself, could mandate its own regulations for shows, Ryan said. Tonight’s performance by comedian Jim Gaffigan at Covelli Centre will not require mask wearing or proof of vaccination.

The Robins Theatre in Warren has a similar policy as JAC. The theater could subject all guests to a temperature scan at the door but is not mandating masks or proof of vaccination or a negative test at this time.

Outside of the Mahoning Valley, Playhouse Square in Cleveland is requiring masks for entry into all of its theaters and venues, regardless of vaccine status.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which oversees performances at 10 downtown venues, including the Benedum Center, Byham Theater, Heinz Hall and the O’Reilly Theater, announced this week that as of Sept. 17, all visitors will be required to provide proof of vaccination. Indoor performances return to the Pittsburgh facilities on that date.

Should levels of community COVID-19 transmission in Allegheny County reach “substantial” or “high,” masks will also be required to enter.

If a certain artist requires masks, it will be noted at the time of ticket purchase.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust policy grants exceptions for children under 12 and people with a medical condition or closely held religious belief that prevents vaccination. “Guests who fall into one of these exception categories must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of the performance start time, or a negative COVID-19 antigen test taken within 24 hours of the performance start time,” the news release states.

Pictured: In this file photo from May 2021, Nate Offerdahl stands outside Westside Bowl, which he owns and operates.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.