After nearly two years living through a COVID-19 pandemic, Charlotte-area residents are resuming activities like going to shows and concerts, the movies and malls.
But as the country and Mecklenburg County see a surge in infections due to the contagious omicron variant, county health officials say there are signs that the peak is near. That could mean going from pandemic to endemic, meaning living with the virus.
While movie theaters like Regal and AMC follow federal and local guidelines requiring safety protocols, several Charlotte music venues require more than masks. The Evening Muse, Visulite Theatre, Neighborhood Theatre, PNC Music Pavilion and Evening Muse, for example, require guests and staff to show proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test results.
Here’s what to expect at three other top Charlotte attractions now and in the future:
Blumenthal Performing Arts
Since reopening for indoor live shows last fall at its venues, Blumenthal Performing Arts ticket sales have been selling better than in the past, or even selling out for well-known names, said Blumenthal Performing Arts CEO Tom Gabbard.
“Less familiar titles have struggled, but many of those shows would have struggled irrespective of COVID,” he said.
The Blumenthal also has had fewer performances since tours and local groups have not resumed to full scale. Also, The McGlohon and Duke Energy Theaters closed Sept. 30 for refurbishment.
Gabbard said the Blumenthal’s COVID safety requirements have not deterred guests or staff and volunteers.
The Blumenthal requires guests to wear masks, except when eating and drinking, at all of its venues.
“The public has been incredibly respectful of our mask requirement, which is strictly enforced,” Gabbard said. “Our fans are thankful to be back in the theater and are ready to follow the rules to safely enjoy a show.”
The same goes for employees and volunteers, who also are required to be fully vaccinated. Blumenthal implemented a vaccination requirement Feb. 25 for all staff and volunteers, and paid people $100 for their time to be fully vaccinated by June 5.
“Many team members had been without work since March 12, 2020. They appreciated that we took a stand to safely get them back to work,” Gabbard said of the vaccination policy.
Only six people left because of the policy, he added. “We regretted seeing them go. But many of our team members work in tight quarters in working on a show, so there was very little opportunity for us to offer accommodations. Protecting each other is job 1.”
The Blumenthal has about 310 full- and part-time employees and nearly 290 volunteers.
And, a Blumenthal survey found that more than 90% of its ticket buyers are fully vaccinated. The Blumenthal has sent extensive surveys to patrons and others several times throughout the pandemic to find out patrons comfort levels to help make decisions.
Since August, Blumenthal staff also have had access to free rapid antigen tests and are encouraged to test at least three times a week before starting work, Gabbard said.
As for shows and performers, they typically follow their own COVID safety protocols. For most shows, everyone backstage tests daily, including touring and local staff.
“Everyone masks backstage unless they are a performer getting ready to perform,” Gabbard said. “Autographs and cast parties have gone away.”
Gabbard doesn’t expect the Blumenthal will require customers to be vaccinated. Broadway theaters require guests to be masked as well as those 12 and older to show proof of full vaccination, a policy in place at least through April 30.
“We’ve chosen to focus on strict enforcement of masking since that’s a strategy that’s proven itself with our peers in places like Korea, where big shows played safely without break-out cases long before vaccines were available,” Gabbard said.
Other changes that will remain, Gabbard said, are the importance of high-quality air filtration and circulation.
Before the pandemic, the Belk Theater, for example, would turn over air (using ventilation systems to exchange outdoor air with indoor air) three times an hour; now it is nine.
All of the venues have been fitted with bipolar ionization, and hundreds of portable HEPA air filter units are in dressing rooms, near the bars and other places where people gather.
Contactless sales for tickets, concessions and parking also are here to stay.
“From the outset, we’ve approached this with a long-term view and expectation that we needed to learn to live with COVID and whatever follows it,” Gabbard said.
With few exceptions, tickets for Hornets games and other Spectrum Center events at the facility at 333 E. Trade St. will be digital, according to the arena’s website.
Masks are required for people age 5 and older at all times while in Spectrum Center, except when actively eating or drinking in the designated seating area. Neck gaiters, bandanas or masks with valves or vents are not permitted, the website states.
The center also has gone contactless with concession and retail stands, and parking. Contactless options also include mobile ordering and express pickup for concessions.
The NBA requires fans seated within 15 feet of the court or player benches to either be fully vaccinated or show a negative PCR COVID test result taken within two days before the game or a rapid antigen test the day of the game. At-home tests will not be accepted, the site states.
The arena also installed improved filtration, plastic shields where workers and guests interact, added more hand sanitation stations and increased cleaning practices.
General admission is about 77% of pre-COVID numbers at Discovery Place, President and CEO Catherine Wilson Horne said.
Discovery Place’s COVID safety protocols include requiring everyone age 2 and older to wear a face mask at all times., limiting capacity and enhanced cleanings. The majority of tickets are now purchased online in advance, compared to 7% of sales before the pandemic.
“The vast majority of our guests are grateful for the mask requirement and other health measures in place to help keep our community safe from the spread of COVID,” Horne said.
Along with wearing masks, employees are required to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.
Discovery Place, with several museums in Charlotte, expects to continue to drive digital sales and e-memberships, plus enhanced cleanings.
“As we work through every twist and turn this pandemic gives us, we continue to follow the science and advice from federal, state and local guidelines,” Horne said. “Our goal is provide experiences that are educational and fun but adjusted for the COVID world.”