LENOX — Four cheers for the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s bold decision to put on a Tanglewood festival this summer, even though it will be six weeks (July 9 to Aug. 16), with limited audiences and a slew of health and safety mandates. Mask up, buttercup!
As Dr. Joseph G. Allen, associate professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health and consultant to the BSO, put it, “There is no recovery without the arts. By prioritizing the health and safety of the Tanglewood community with comprehensive public health policies, the Boston Symphony Orchestra has an opportunity to once again unite the Berkshire community through music.”
Let’s hope the other Berkshire performing arts venues follow the lead of the BSO, Shakespeare & Company and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival by staging seasons according to state and local health guideposts. The Berkshire Theatre Group is expected to announce its summer plans soon for the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield and its two venues in Stockbridge. Barrington Stage reportedly will mount three indoor and three outdoor shows.
But, included within the BSO’s 5,000-word announcement Friday, there’s a cautionary note worth heeding: “Through this fluid situation, Tanglewood will remain flexible and consider adjusting its reopening plan only if it can do so while continuing to maintain its established health and safety standards for everyone associated with the festival. If the CDC or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts recommends more stringent guidelines for public gatherings, or an on-campus issue warrants, the BSO will modify its plans in consultation with its advisory team and communicate any changes accordingly.”
The announcement also notes that Tanglewood is part of a Berkshire-based consortium of cultural organizations that has developed a unified “COVID-19 Code of Courtesy” addressing public safety for all visitors to the region. These guidelines have been reviewed and endorsed by the Berkshire Public Health Alliance.
That’s good to know, but I’d suggest one further step: Since every adult willing to be vaccinated should have received the jabs by early July, proof of inoculation should be required for admittance to Tanglewood and our other stages. Just show a vaccination card or photo of it to the ticket-taker, and you’re in. Anti-vaxxers would not be welcome, in my view.
Too stringent, you say? Not at all. Throwing caution to the wind, as too many people are doing in some states, is a prescription for a spike or surge.
If you think we’re out of the woods, I invite you to note the advice of Boston University epidemiologist Helen Jenkins: “I think we’re just in a race against time to vaccinate people. I definitely am concerned that we could see things start to tick up.”
She’s skeptical about Gov. Charlie Baker’s loosening of restrictions, effective this Monday, moving the state into Phase Four of the reopening scenario: “I do have concerns that it will just help encourage spread,” Jenkins said, referring to the reduction in capacity limits at some businesses, allowing more in-person activities to resume, including attending entertainment venues and gathering on wedding dance floors. “I do think that we need to be very cautious because of new variants.”
For his part, Baker cited positive trends in Massachusetts — hospitalizations have dropped by 20 percent and deaths by 24 percent since March 1. Moreover, he’s confident that over 4 million Massachusetts adults will be vaccinated by July 4, close to the total 18-plus population of just under 5 million.
But, testing is down in our state and nationally, and the rate of positive tests in recent weeks has been above last summer’s level.
“Cases are obviously much lower than they were [at the beginning of the year], but they’re still reasonably high by the standard of what case numbers have been across the whole pandemic,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.
“I think one of the huge saving graces of where we are right now is that so many of the highest-risk people have been vaccinated. So, what I don’t expect is kind of getting crushed on hospitalizations and massive increases in death.”
But, Northeastern University epidemiologist Samuel Scarpino deems the current case totals “unacceptably high. We can see that the hospitalizations have come down because of vaccination. But, there are still people getting hospitalized, there are still lots of people getting sick. If we had just taken the measures that were working and left them in place for a little bit longer, the cases would be continuing to drop week after week.”
In at least 14 states, caseloads have increased by more than 10 percent, according to Johns Hopkins University, and half of those states saw a rise of more than 20 percent. Massachusetts cases spiked by 8 percent, but surrounding states like New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire showed more alarming increases.
Jenkins, the BU epidemiologist, predicts that “we can probably look forward to a reasonably enjoyable summer. But, to do that, I really think we need to kind of sit tight for another few weeks. This is a time for being cautious. The end is in sight.”
If we all want to enjoy a fruitful cultural harvest this summer, let’s take it slow and steady until then, in order to reap the benefits offered by our Berkshire performing artists.
Information from The Boston Globe was included in this commentary.