In practical terms, that could mean that the family of a child undergoing chemotherapy could ask her classmates and teachers to put on masks to protect her from Covid (and other illnesses like the flu), without having to sue the school. Offices can create masked spaces or test on-site and offer flexible working arrangements. Restaurants would continue to protect staff by asking customers to show vaccine cards and not show up sick.
Returning to what once was is not possible for everyone; instead, we need a new normal, one that recognizes that everyone deserves the chance to participate in everyday life. As the philosopher Martha Nussbaum suggested, we could start by simply asking the vulnerable what they need.
Thirteen national orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony and the Boston Symphony, have done just that. Led by WolfBrown, a research and consulting firm, the Audience Outlook Monitor Covid-19 study is an ongoing effort to measure what allows the public to feel comfortable enough to return. (Orchestras often have an older crowd, which is at greater risk.) So far, most customers say they still want masks in place, although numbers are falling. A survey conducted by Theater Washington, an umbrella organization that partners with theater organizations in Washington, DC, also found a preference for wearing masks.
“Art groups are very good at accessibility,” WolfBrown CEO Alan Brown told me. “They’ve been doing that for a long time for people of different disabilities and abilities.” But right now, he said, the focus is more on filling seats than on long-term changes. “The concept of accessibility has changed and our industry has yet to really come up with a response,” he added.
Can’t some performances just stay protected even if mask requirements drop? I don’t mean special, one-off performances. I mean in the near future we may need masks for some performances or designate specific areas of the theater for compromised individuals, allowing us to provide inclusiveness forever.
After all, it’s not like Covid has gone away. The BA.2 variant is on the rise. Just as the mask mandates fell, the White House announced that money has dried up for free testing and vaccination for the uninsured and for the purchase and distribution of monoclonal antibodies, a treatment for Covid-19 that is still not readily available.
For example, we are dismantling the safety nets, while the United States sees about 600 deaths from Covid every day. While those at greatest risk are the unvaccinated, “if you look at the statistics of what determines when we need to scale back this protection,” says Dr Titanji, the infectious disease expert, “we’re focusing on the right groups at determining what is acceptable in terms of how much excessive death we are willing to tolerate because these additional deaths essentially disproportionately occur among the groups of people most vulnerable in society.