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Performers, Venues Increasingly Requiring Vaccine Cards, Negative COVID Tests At Columbus Shows

Concert goers prepare to enter Nationwide Arena for the Twenty One Pilots concert on October 27, 2021. Attendees were required to show proof of receiving the COVID vaccine or a negative test result.
Nationwide Arena
Concert goers prepare to enter Nationwide Arena for the Twenty One Pilots concert on October 27, 2021. Attendees were required to show proof of receiving the COVID vaccine or a negative test result.

Concerts and the performing arts are back in Columbus, but more and more performers and venues are requiring guests to show their vaccine card or a negative COVID test before entry.

But how well are fans adhering to the new rules, and how well are venues enforcing them?

Musical duo Twenty One Pilots recently played three nights of shows in their hometown Columbus, each night filling Nationwide Arena to near capacity.

Amy Gordon attended the first night with her 13-year-old daughter, Sophia.

“Just so much energy and the way they interact with the audience. Yeah, it was, it was awesome," Gordon said. "The only thing I would do differently is next time, I would get better seats.”

At the request of the band, everyone in attendance had to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test before being admitted.

Gary O'Brien is director of communications for Columbus Arena Sports and Entertainment, which oversees events at Nationwide Arena, the Schottenstein Center and others.

“I will tell you that Twenty One Pilots fans are probably the most responsible, most polite and respectful fans among them out there. And so that was not an issue," O'Brien said.

O'Brien said the fact that concert attendees could submit their proof of vaccination online in advance sped up the process at the doors.

The city also required fans to wear a mask during the performance, unless actively eating or drinking.

O'Brien admitted that is harder to enforce.

“You know, we enforce it to the best of our abilities. But, you know, if we have a full house and some people are not doing that, it's sometimes hard to do that. But we're following all the city guidelines regarding that," he said.

The arenas leave it up to the individual performer or promoter to decide whether to require vaccinations. They post the rules online.

Considering the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic, the arena group’s O'Brien said the whole system has run remarkably smoothly.

“We've never lived through this before, and we are certainly working hard to make sure that guests, artists, athletes and staff are as safe as possible," O'Brien said.

It's not just rock bands mandating vaccines.

Several performing arts groups including CAPA began requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test as part of re-opening safety protocols last month.

“We certainly had some folks that have come into the theater and expressed frustration of the policy or even some folks that came up to the door and weren't aware of what we were trying to do," said CAPA president and CEO Chad Whittington.

Whittington said the vaccine requirement is necessary because performances are now back at 100% capacity, which is the only way to make them financially possible.

"Substantial activity was shut down for 18 months, and we're just starting to get reopened. Now, we certainly don't want to go back to where we were just a few months ago. We're gonna do everything we can to make sure we can keep the doors open," Whittington said.

That includes new cleaning protocols, sanitizer stations and upgraded HVAC systems. Whittington said the changes won't last forever.

“This is something we continue to watch. As these numbers go down, will there be a change in policy at some point? Absolutely,” Whittington said.

Twenty One Pilots fan Amy Gordon doesn't mind having to show proof of her vaccination status.

If anything, she said, having the shot and knowing others do too gives her peace of mind.

“I mean, I want to get out and enjoy things, and I don't want to worry about it," she said. "I know it's not 100%, but it makes me feel good that I have that little extra layer of protection."

Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.