The New Jersey Performing Arts Center based in Newark said beginning this summer season it will require all patrons to have the COVID-19 vaccine, or test negative for the virus, in order to gain entry to the venue.
NJPAC officials are hoping the move will help start the rebound for the Newark-based performance arts center, which offers music, dance and poetry events throughout the year.
The venue plans to offer a summer and fall schedule, and will enforce mask requirements, as well as offer touchless services for check-in and ramped up sanitization efforts.
Arts, theater and culture venues across the state have seen their finances decimated amid business closures and reduced capacity restrictions forcing performances to cancel their shows.
“While we are currently the only venue in the state requiring testing or vaccines before a patron may enter our theaters, we feel this measure is necessary to ensure the safety of everyone on our campus,” reads a statement from David Rodriguez, NJPAC’s executive producer.
Tickets for in-person events are slated to go on sale starting this month, according to NJPAC executives. Capacity restrictions at indoor venues with at least 2,500 seats are set at 20%. NJPAC’s Prudential Hall seats 2,868 people, according to its website.
Patrons will have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within three days of the performance, or alternatively a completed vaccination card no less than 14 days before the event.
“The question that will be answered once we go on sale again with live shows is how quickly folks want to come back in … part of their decision-making for coming back is going to be how safe we’re going to have them feel in the venue,” said John Schreiber, NJPAC’s president, in a phone call.
“We’re not saying ‘unless you’re vaccinated you can’t come in.’ What we’re saying is either be vaccinated or give us proof of a negative [COVID-19] test.”
While a negative test result has been a requirement for any type of business or customer during the last year of the pandemic, a vaccine requirement has only just entered the public discourse, becoming a politically and culturally polarizing idea.
The White House has said it has no plans to implement a nationwide vaccine verification system, typically referred to as a so-called “vaccine passport.”
“We believe it will be driven by the private sector,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last month.
Nations such as Japan, Israel, the European Union and China have enacted some form of a digital vaccine passport. States like Florida, Texas and Montana have entirely banned these so-called “vaccine passports,” and several Republican New Jersey lawmakers introduced a similar bill on April 15.
The U.S. government has no such central database to administer a digital passport, and so the closest things are mobile phone apps developed by the private sector, or vaccine cards issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control.
“Don’t get rid of the card, that’s likely to be something valuable … Laminate it and put it in your wallet,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during a mid-March television interview. “There are lots of different potential uses for that, whether it’s going to a sporting event, getting on a plane.”
He later clarified that while he was “open” to the concept of such a verification system, he would ultimately wait for federal CDC guidance.