When Winston-Salem’s Ramkat posted on their Facebook page that they would be requiring either proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative PCR test for all customers attending events, their social media blew up.
Some of their patrons thanked them for doing the right thing and keeping music alive. Others said they felt much more comfortable attending events. On the flip side, many called it a bad idea. One Facebook user threatened to never spend money at the Ramkat again and another told them to “quit being sheep.”
“It certainly elicited a wide variety of response,” said Andy Tennille, co-owner of the Ramkat. “A lot of people were very supportive and thanked us, and then we’ve certainly heard from people who don’t think that’s a good decision for a variety of reasons, whether that’s their interpretation of science or just their opinion.”
Guilford County reinstated a mask mandate on August 13 and Forsyth did the same a week later, on August 20.
At least 3,612 people were being hospitalized with COVID across the state as of August 30, up from 1,240 on July 30 according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. Forsyth County has had about 741 new cases per 100,000 residents over the last 14 days and Guilford County has had 624 per 100,000 residents over that same period.
Given this, Tennille and co-owner Richard Emmett plan to keep their policy of asking for vaccines or negative tests for as long as they think it is necessary.
“I’m not a doctor,” Tennille said. “I don’t have MD behind my name, so I’m a little bit out of my depth knowing when the community is at risk. At this point in time our policies are until further notice. We’re going to defer to medical professionals in terms of how we’re going to operate.”
In some cases, whole cities like New York and San Francisco have required proof of vaccination to go many places, as reported by News 12. But even in cities where this is not the case, owners of individual venues are well within their rights to protect themselves, their artists and their patrons with their own rules, they say.
“I’m glad we’re part of an industry that feels similarly,” said Emmett. “I don’t know of a similar venue like ours that don’t have these kinds of policies. It’s not like we’re doing something no one else is doing.”
But negative responses are common all over the Triad. Jennie Stencel, owner of the Idiot Box and Next Door Beer Bar, has had people both thank her and get annoyed at her businesses for following Greensboro’s mask mandate.
“The most common question people have when they walk through the door is, ‘Are you seriously enforcing this?’” she said. “We’ve been as polite as we can be and supplying masks, which is another small business expense. It’s been a little stressful.”
Part of the problem with people accepting the mask mandates, Stencel believes, is that the mandates have been coming and going with very little warning. She would have liked a little more lead time, or for officials to decide on a specific percent of infections in the city that would lead to a mask mandate.
All of the staff are vaccinated at both of her businesses , but they do not have any policies in place for customers. Many customers come in without masks at all, she said, despite the mandate.
“I’ve just been kind about it, which is hard for me because I’m a combative person,” she said. “It seems to have settled down now that we’re a little further into the mask mandate. But every time something changes, people get angry.”
Meagan Kopp at the Carolina Theatre in Greensboro has had a similar experience where she has fielded a lot of pushback, but also a lot of support. People have thanked her for the theater’s masking policy, and also told her that they will not be coming in if they have to wear a mask.
Right now, the theater does not have a vaccination policy, but Kopp says that could change at any time.
“We need to get approval from the board,” she said. “It’s not just a decision we can make on a staff level. We can’t make everyone happy, but we can do our best to try to keep everyone healthy while also trying to provide a bit of an escape.”
The theater had required masks through mid-July, and then recommended them after that, until Greensboro reinstated the indoor mask policy. However, masks were always mandatory at the Carolina Kids Club because children under the age of 12 still cannot be vaccinated. They have not yet had a show at full capacity, which Kopp said would be 1,200 people.
“We’ve had to postpone a couple shows and we’ve had a couple artists postpone,” she said. “We’ve had a couple artists move because we don’t require proof of vaccines or a negative test. It’s definitely a challenge, but our guests are happy to see some live music or take in a classic film, to see something other than their TV screen.
“We haven’t brought back any of our big music shows yet, but we have some in the fall,” Kopp continued. “Tabitha Brown will probably be the first big one, and that will be our first bigger show where we’re looking at hundreds of people in attendance. The big music shows aren’t for a few months yet.”
Carlos Bocanegra of Monstercade in Winston-Salem, says he has not run into much pushback from his own decision not to do shows indoors yet, but he commends those who have had to combat that.
Monstercade has kept their events outside and Bocanegra hopes to reopen doors in October. For now, they recommend masks outside but do not enforce the policy. Anyone who comes inside to get a drink or use the bathroom must wear a mask as required by the city’s mandate.
“We’re trying to figure it out week by week, if not day by day so we don’t contribute to the rising hospital numbers,” Bocanegra said. “A lot of artists have really suffered. But at the same time, we have not opened our indoor stage yet.”
Of his club, Bocanegra said, “It’s like ground zero for anything artistic that’s happening. We push the alternative arts and keep it as a safe space for them to explore without alienating a more mainstream audience. But we are a small club, and we don’t believe it’s time yet to reopen.”
Bocanegra says he had reached out to several hospitals and the county health department in an effort to get mobile vaccination units to come to Monstercade, but that this has proved more difficult than he originally thought it would be. He had hoped that people who had not yet gotten the vaccine might be encouraged by their community coming out to support them.
“It’s a little irritating because I felt like we were trying to help the community out,” he said. “I have no idea why we hit so many roadblocks with that.”
Like many other venue owners and managers in the area, Bocanegra is trying to be flexible as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise and fall approaches.
“It would have been different if I had opened the indoor stage and then closed it, but we haven’t until we feel like this is manageable,” he said. “I’m not quite sure what the future holds. I’m generally an optimist. We have to be, or else this thing is just going to eat us alive.”
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