The following editorial appeared in the (New York) Daily News.
Indoor and outdoor gatherings with more than 50 people are currently illegal in the state of New York. Anyone who’s spent more than 24 hours in 33 of the 50 states, plus Puerto Rico or Guam, must quarantine 14 days upon arriving in New York, with hefty fines for violators.
Those harsh rules apply to everyone. Eh, almost everyone.
The asterisks are for those who are medium-funny and work at a famous major network sketch comedy show, or for pro athletes on the Yankees or Mets or Buffalo Bills (or amateurs on the Giants and Jets if the Meadowlands squads still played in New York). And so, when NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” premiered last weekend from Rockefeller Center, even as authorities prepared to ramp up enforcement of the 50-person limit on synagogues throughout Brooklyn, 100 people sat in the audience.
The catch: SNL’s producers paid $150 each to audience members so they could be legally considered cast and crew members exploiting a loophole in state regulations allowing film and TV productions to resume, regardless of size, so long as all present are working for, not just enjoying, the show. (Could synagogues “hire” people to pray? We hope not.)
The smart part: Those audience members were required to take rapid COVID-19 tests and show negative results before attending. They wore masks throughout and sat in small groups.
Which leads to this question: If such measures kept everyone in that studio safe, even with more than 50 people present, shouldn’t other struggling theaters and comedy clubs, especially ones without NBC’s clout or money, be allowed to do the same?
Either quarantining is necessary for public safety or it’s not. Either mass gatherings over 50 are dangerous or they’re not. The virus doesn’t care how fast you can pitch or how funny you are. The virus is no joke; the rules can’t become one.