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Spokane Symphony sets vaccine, mask mandate for events after Labor Day

Aug. 30, 2021 Updated Tue., Aug. 31, 2021 at 3:50 p.m.

Members of the Spokane Symphony, from left, Louise Butler (cello), Helen Byrne (assistant principal cello), Stephen Swanson (double bass) and Sean Lamont (cello) perform Dec. 18 onstage at Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox for the virtual New Year’s Eve concert.  (Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review)
Members of the Spokane Symphony, from left, Louise Butler (cello), Helen Byrne (assistant principal cello), Stephen Swanson (double bass) and Sean Lamont (cello) perform Dec. 18 onstage at Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox for the virtual New Year’s Eve concert. (Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review)

Attendees at Spokane Symphony events will have to prove they’re vaccinated or prove they are COVID-free, according to new policies that will go into effect Sept. 7 at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox.

The symphony announced new policies Monday that will require concertgoers over age 12 to show they got the COVID-19 vaccine by either presenting their card in-person or having an electronic version. If attendees do not have either one available, they will have to show a negative COVID-19 test result from within two days of the event.

Jeff vom Saal, executive director at the Spokane Symphony, said the decision was to avoid shuttering events altogether as Spokane County sees an increase in COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths.

“It’s the Swiss cheese approach,” Saal said. “Whatever you can do to reduce risk, you should do.”

Everyone over age 5 also will have to wear a mask inside regardless of vaccination status or test results, according to a news release.

The decision comes as other event hosts have adjusted COVID-19 policies for in-person events.

BachFest Concert attendees will also have to show proof of vaccination before they can get into the event, according to a news release from Connoisseur Concerts. The mandate will apply to the upcoming sold-out concerts scheduled for Sept. 9 and Sept. 13, with the organization offering full refunds to unvaccinated people.

Saal said symphony members also will have to show proof of their vaccination status, though musicians can also request an exemption.

Those who don’t get vaccinated will undergo regular testing in the days leading up to a performance. This includes front-facing musicians, food and beverage servers, and ticketing staff, Saal said.

About 88% of Spokane Symphony staff members are vaccinated, he said.

“Most people are at this point,” Saal said. “We do have a couple of exceptions for various legitimate reasons.”

The mandates apply to any symphony-hosted events and upcoming performances labeled as “Fox Presents,” according to the news release.

Vom Saal said Sept. 7 was chosen as the starting date for the vaccine requirement because of the symphony moving ahead with its annual outdoor Labor Day concert at the Pavilion at Riverfront Park. The City of Spokane will require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test result for admission.

All of the symphony’s events after the free Labor Day concert are indoors, vom Saal said.

The mandate will last for the foreseeable future, Saal said, though policies may change.

“It’s the kind of conversation that never really ends,” vom Saal said.

The symphony will honor refunds for people who bought tickets before the mandate announcement, vom Saal said. If someone arrives at the door the day of the event, however, it’s likely they won’t get a refund.

Spokane County has seen its hospitals at or near capacity, facing both lack of resources and staff as they cope with 210 people who were hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Friday, according to data from the Spokane Regional Health District.

About 94% of those in the hospital for COVID were not vaccinated, according to a report from the Washington state Department of Health. In Spokane County, about 59% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated as of Monday, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vom Saal said he expects the choice to be controversial but necessary for the symphony’s ability to perform.

“This is a tough one for people,” vom Saal said. “We want to do good, and right now good means keeping people safe.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to show the correct location for the Spokane Symphony’s scheduled Sept. 6 Labor Day concert, which will be held at the Pavilion at Riverfront Park. 

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