Students confused by differing COVID-19 capacity rules


GVL / Annabelle Robinson

Gillian Hanton, Staff Writer

While many places in the country have already begun to host in-person events again, such as sports, concerts and plays, the question of when and where to implement COVID-19 safety restrictions has become a new struggle. Capacity limitations are being enforced differently across venues in the wider Grand Rapids community, as well as at Grand Valley State University. 

Sporting events at college and professional levels have a large fan base and are important in stimulating local economies. As a result, the return of mass spectatorship for sporting events in late 2020 and early 2021 was a welcome change.

However, the shift from limited to full capacity in sports stadiums took place very quickly, with little to no protective measures in place. Grand Rapids sports venues such as the Deltaplex and Van Andel Arena are currently operating under normal conditions despite the rising number of cases in West Michigan. 

In contrast, the arts and entertainment industry has taken the longest to recover from COVID-19, and still have many restrictions in place. The DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids, for example, requires that all audience members wear a mask and have proof of vaccination upon entry. While the hall is currently operating at full capacity, the decision to do so was made in late September 2021, several months after the same decision was made for sporting events. 

Arts events at GVSU are still facing restrictive measures concerning event capacity and face coverings. Students like Megan Wolter in the Music, Theatre and Dance Department said they feel they have been hit the hardest by restrictions. 

“We still have to wear masks when we’re performing on stage, and we’re at about 25% capacity in Louis Armstrong Theatre, our performance space,” Wolter said. “For our senior capstone project, where we make our own dance, we are only allowed to invite six people per night, so the capacity for that room is about 30 people.”

While capacity restrictions may be frustrating for student performers, they are enforced with their own well-being in mind. GVSU is currently facing COVID-19 alert level two, meaning that firmer on-campus restrictions such as dining options, face-coverings and events are in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Still, it is difficult for some students to reconcile the issue of safety with a lack of audience able to appreciate their work. 

“It is a little upsetting to not have a large number of people in the audience, especially for the department show,” Wolter said. “It’s not really as exciting.”

Wolter said that while arts students at GVSU have been drastically affected by COVID-19 protocols, sporting events have not followed the same restrictions. For example, during the 2021 season, the GVSU football team had matchups at Lubber’s Stadium at full capacity.

According to GVSU athletics spectator guidelines published on March 25, 2021, self-screening and masks are required for all attendees, tailgating is not permitted and there is a limit of 250 spectators. This difference has left arts students feeling confused. 

“I would like a more clear-cut, concise answer about protocols,” Wolter said. “Why are our audiences so limited, to the point where we’re inviting all the people who get to come to our show when anyone can go to sporting events? It puts a lot of pressure on performers to prioritize certain friends and family.” 

Despite the differences in restrictions, all GVSU departments are working to achieve a sense of normalcy, although there will be many differences across venues and events. Ultimately, decisions are made with the health and safety of the entire GVSU community in mind.