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No longer required vaccine proof for COVID tests

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Broadway Palm, Lab Theater and New Phoenix announce new Fort Myers seasons

Florida Repertory Theatre no longer requires negative COVID testing or proof that they have been immunized. Customers must still wear face masks at the Fort Myers theater, but they don’t have to show their COVID cards at the door anymore.

Artistic director Greg Longenhagen credits the state’s decreasing COVID cases and transmission rates for the decision.

‘We’ve been saying from the beginning, when we opened the season, that our hope was to be able to relax these protocols as soon as possible,” Longenhagen said. “The numbers in Florida decreased exponentially, which we were so glad to hear. And the transmission rate dipped below 5 percent.”

Previously:Florida Rep announces COVID-19 new requirements for audience members

Florida investigation:State investigating Fort Myers, Naples businesses over vaccine passport law

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The Florida Rep required negative COVID test results or proof that they had been immunized in September. To comply with that policy, theater patrons 12 years and over had to submit to a negative COVID-19 testing by an official laboratory or a healthcare provider.

Longenhagen stated that theater patrons also had to show proof of vaccination. Florida law prohibits business from demanding proof of vaccination. The carefully crafted Florida Rep policy however left this option open to all.

Audiences arrive for the October show

“This is what we thought would be the safest way for us to open season and have patrons in our spaces,”Longenhagen commented on the Florida Rep’s recent changes. “And I still think we did the right thing.”

Artis—Naples adopted a similar COVID-19 policy last month. Questions about possible changes to the Naples venue’s COVID protocols — sent in writing Nov. 19 to Artis—Naples — have received no response.

As of Friday, Nov. 26, the venue required people to show a professionally administered negative COVID-19 PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior to their admission to either performances at Artis—Naples or The Baker Museum.

You can also bring a valid vaccination card. Masks will be required to perform the Broadway musical “Come From Away”.

A detailed list of Artis—Naples protocols is at artisnaples.org/visit/coronavirus or call 239-597-1900.

Florida Rep quietly changed its COVID policy about three weeks ago and didn’t publicize the change on social media or in a news release.  Longenhagen stated that the company did however send several emails to ticket holders and kept them updated. “Protocols for Safety”It has removed the mention of COVID test results or proof of vaccination from its website.

The change comes just in time for one of Florida Rep’s most-anticipated shows of the season, “West Side Story.” The musical opened Friday on the theater’s main stage.

Longenhagen doesn’t expect those stricter COVID requirements to return anytime soon, but he said that depends on CDC guidelines and whether COVID cases start spiking again in Southwest Florida.

“We are gonna do what we’ve done from the beginning and we’re gonna follow the science and take into consideration what science is telling us and react accordingly,”He stated. “We would definitely take a look at what’s happening on the ground locally … and if there’s anything that we might need to do to enhance safety and keep people safe.”

Jim Rodenfels and his wife, Teddy, wore their vaccination cards to a Florida Repertory Theatre show in October. The Fort Myers theater has since dropped its requirement of either a negative COVID test or proof of vaccination for audience members.

Florida Rep insists that performers and staff must be fully vaccinated. Additional safety measures include:

  • Prior to each performance, bathrooms, lobby and seating areas must be cleaned.
  • Upgraded HVACs in all performance spaces that include ionization hydro-peroxide filters to further clean the air.
  • Place portable air filters throughout your building.
  • And COVID testing three times a week for everyone directly involved with producing the shows — including actors and crews. That’s required by the union Actors’ Equity Association.

Florida Rep is one of the three Southwest Florida business being investigated by Florida Department of Health. This investigation concerns whether the state bans COVID-19 vaccination passports, or other mandatory vaccines. The theater was included on a health department list last month of more than 100 performing arts centers, cruise lines and other businesses being investigated.

Longenhagen stated that so far nothing has come out of the investigation. A state official called the theater about three weeks ago and asked questions about its COVID protocols, he said, but they haven’t heard from anybody since then.

Florida Rep clearly didn’t violate Florida law, he said, since it gave every customer a choice. According to the policy, patrons had to present a negative COVID-19 result at the front desk. Or — if they wanted — they could show proof of vaccination instead.

“My belief is that, because we’ve never required anyone to show a vaccine card and we’re fully up front about that, I don’t believe that there’s any violation,” Longenhagen said.

For more information about Florida’s new policy, call 332-4665 or visit floridarep.org/buy-tickets/protocols-for-safety.

Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnells is an arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Email him at [email protected] or connect on Facebook (facebook.com/charles.runnells.7), Twitter (@charlesrunnells) and Instagram (@crunnells1).

Harriet Howard Heithaus was a contributor to this article.