Latest Health Order Requires Indoor Performers to be Masked

Latest Health Order Requires Indoor Performers to be Masked

Latest Health Order Requires Indoor Performers to be Masked
Actors in a production of Bullshot Crummond at the Campbell Theatre in Martinez will now perform masked due to new COVID measures.

Columns Sally Hogarty Stage StruckCONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (Aug. 8. 2021) — Many people are familiar with the television show “The Masked Singer,” where judges try to discover the identity of the celebrity singer behind the elaborate mask. Life is now imitating art, however, in what could be the final bow for some performing art organizations.

According to Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano, the county has a higher case rate (close to 50% higher) than any other Bay Area County. In response, he issued a new health order. Under this rule, all persons in Contra Costa, regardless of vaccination status, must wear face coverings in public indoor settings until further notice. The order, which took effect Aug. 3, includes the on-stage performers at theatrical and musical events.

In his health order, Dr. Farnitano wrote, “Over the two-week period ending July 27, 2021, the seven-day rolling average of new cases in the County more than doubled, from 136.9 cases per day [to] 289.4 cases per day.”

Dr. Farnitano also noted hospitalizations more than doubled during the same period. Cases went from a total of 52 (12 in intensive care) to 117 (33 in intensive care). Nearly 80 percent of the cases analyzed contained the Delta variant of the virus.

This substantial increase in COVID cases and the subsequent requiring in Contra Costa County that performers also wear masks, has sent local arts organizations into a frenzy.

Adapting to the new rules

Lamorinda Idol, a singing competition for elementary through high school students scheduled for Aug. 15 at the Orinda Theatre, has pivoted to an outdoor venue and changed its competition to Aug. 14 rather than cancel the event or require the young performers to wear masks while singing.

Randy Anger, producer for Plotline Theatre Company, chose a different path for his production of “Bullshot Crummond,” performing through Aug. 15 at the Campbell Theatre in Martinez.

“We ordered surgical masks for the cast and incorporated them into the comedy. Our actors personalized their masks to represent their characters and found ways to use them to get even more laughs,” said Anger.

“We found out about the new mask mandate Aug. 2,” said Solo Opera artistic Director Sylvia Amorino. “And I was thrilled to know that all the audience members in theaters would now be masked. But shortly after, I heard from our theater that this mandate in Contra Costa County also included performers. Unfortunately for opera singers, singers, and those playing wind instruments, this makes performing difficult, if not impossible. Four other counties though, currently allow performers to go unmasked. For our company, we are working to see how we can safely move ahead with our “Scalia/Ginsburg” opera in September.”

As of Aug. 7, Solo Opera had ordered special “singers” masks they hoped would allow their opera singers to perform Sept. 10 and 12, the company’s scheduled dates at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts.

Delta Variant

The Contra Costa Board of Supervisors supports Dr. Farnitano’s new health directive. District 4 Supervisor Karen Mitchoff agreed that we need additional measures to deal with the danger posed by the fast-spreading Delta variant but feels badly for the businesses and performers it will affect.

“I’m so sorry this has to happen and that there will be a negative economic impact, but public health comes first,” said Mitchoff. “I specifically asked Dr. Farnitano if performers had to be masked and he said yes. I feel bad for them, but singing is one of the worst ways to spread the disease because droplets go out into the air. It’s a very sad situation, and I blame unvaccinated people for the fact we are going backwards. Absent a medical reason, it is absolutely irresponsible to themselves and their community to not get vaccinated.”

For the immediate future, local performing arts groups will either have performers mask-up in doors, switch to outdoor venues or cancel productions. Organizations count on the public to do their part to get the current surge under control so health officials can lift the restrictions.

“We are following the case rates and hospitalization rates on a daily basis and will consider revisions if the situation improves,” said Dr. Farnitano.

Sally Hogarty
Sally Hogarty

Sally Hogarty is well known around the Bay Area as a newspaper columnist, theatre critic and working actress. She is the editor of the Orinda News. Send comments to