Top US disease expert Fauci says it could be a year before theatre sans masks feels normal

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – As theatres look to see how they might reopen with safety accommodations including mask use, leading United States infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci says it will likely be more than a year before people feel comfortable returning to theatres without masks.

“If we get a really good vaccine and just about everybody gets vaccinated,” he said in an Instagram Live interview with actress Jennifer Garner on Wednesday (Sept 9), “you’ll have a degree of immunity in the general community that I think you can walk into a theatre without a mask and feel like it’s comfortable that you’re not going to be at risk.”

He said that would likely not be until mid- to late-2021.

But that doesn’t mean he is saying when it would be safe to go to the theatre without a mask.

Dr Fauci, who leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, clarified in a phone interview on Friday that he was referring to when people could return to theatre-going at their pre-coronavirus comfort levels.

“Words like ‘safe’ are charged,” he said.

“I’m talking about the general trend of when we’ll start to feel comfortable going back to normal if we get a safe and effective vaccine.”

He said that although a vaccine might be available as early as the end of this year or the beginning of 2021, it would likely be well into next year before enough people were vaccinated to ensure broad protection.

But he said that in green-zone areas – those with very low community transmission – indoor theatres may be able to return sooner if people wear masks.

“As long as there is infection in the community, you do not want indoor spaces with crowds,” he said on Friday.

“But in states, cities or counties in the green zone with low levels of infection, I imagine theatres could maybe open at 25 per cent capacity, with people wearing masks, sometime as early as next year.”

Experts said Dr Fauci’s comments help set the expectation that the coronavirus will be around for some time.

“We should not be thinking of the vaccine as a silver bullet,” Dr Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University who previously served as Baltimore’s health commissioner, said on Friday.

“It will take months to vaccinate hundreds of millions of people, and the vaccine may be, at best, 75 per cent effective.”

Dr Peter Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said the first vaccines “are not magic solutions”.

“So we’ll likely still need to continue masks and contact tracing,” he said.

The Broadway League said in a statement on Friday that it would continue to put the health of employees and audiences first as it works to help theatres reopen.

“We are working closely with medical experts and members of Governor Cuomo’s recovery team to ensure that all proper health and safety protocols will be in place when the time comes to reopen our theatres,” it said.

Producers have said they will refund all tickets purchased for performances through Jan 3.

Some Broadway theatres are hoping to reopen as soon as March – the earliest planned opening night right now is for the Tracy Letts play The Minutes, which is set for March 15.

Two more shows, a revival of David Mamet’s play American Buffalo and a new show about Michael Jackson, MJ the Musical, aim to follow nearly a month later on April 14-15.

The much-anticipated revival of The Music Man, headlined by Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, which was originally set for the autumn, now plans to open on May 20.

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