Peter Fox ’24 is double majoring in government and theater arts. He is acting this semester in a Mainstage Production, is a member of the Shakespeare in the Dark Acting Club and also acts in student-run theater productions. Peter is a Monroe Scholar and is on the vestry of Canterbury: The Episcopal Church at the College of William and Mary. Email Peter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.
I am the person referenced in the February 22 editorial who petitioned the College of William and Mary to end the mask mandate for fine arts performances. In opposing my petition, which garnered nearly 800 signatures in just three days, the author, a singer, argues that strict masking should remain in place because performing is “a dangerous activity.” He further claims that his immunocompromised friends would be endangered by maskless performers because they would be releasing “aerosolized, potentially pathogen-carrying particles” that could infect the audience. Really?
Apparently, my critic and all of his immunocompromised friends have not had a meal recently at any of the campus cafeterias, where hundreds of students sit closely together while eating, drinking, talking and (gasp) sometimes even singing, all without wearing masks. He also doesn’t seem to be aware that, since last year, competitive athletes at the College have been almost entirely mask-free, both during training and in competition before thousands of fans. Are students somehow not endangered by the pathogen-laden aerosols being exhaled in the Sadler Center or at sporting events? Are the College’s students endangering their very lives when they cheer on the Tribe at Kaplan Arena? The obvious answer is, of course not.
As the experts keep reminding us, COVID-19 is here to stay. Now and in the future, those who are immunocompromised must make individual decisions as to whether it is safe to enter any space, whether it be a game, a play or a crowded cafeteria. There is no inherently greater risk attending a play than there is attending a sporting event, and in fact any perceived risk is probably much lower at a play (fewer aerosols and all that). It is disingenuous and an unfair double standard to allow athletes to train and play with no masks, but not to accord the same freedom to the performing arts.
Most athletes at the College were properly given an exemption because they cannot perform at their best while masked. Actors similarly can’t perform their art while covering their faces. Neither can woodwind and brass musicians. Dancers are being harmed, too.
To the editorialist I would say this: If you want to continue wearing your mask while you perform, have at it. Just don’t pretend it is fair that the university has the right to inconsistently impose masking standards on every fine arts performer when those same standards are not imposed on athletes, cafeteria patrons or, as of this week, those walking through dormitory common areas.