New Jersey high school wrestlers, basketball players and other athletes competing indoors are usually breathing hard, yelling, grunting pushing and grabbing, sweating all over each other, but they are not required to wear masks.

Students participating in any kind of theatrical, dance or musical production, however, are required to wear a face-covering at all times on stage.

According to Bob Morrison, the director of Arts Ed New Jersey, this might sound strange but it makes sense.

He said research shows that arts activities “are high aerosol-generating activities and as a result of that, specific mitigation strategies need to be utilized in order to reduce the level of aerosols that are being generated.”

He said those strategies include good ventilation, social distancing and wearing a mask.

When Morrison was asked why actors or singers in a school performance are at a higher risk, generating higher aerosol levels than kids participating in sports activities in a gym, he said “when you sing your vocal cords are vibrating, that is breaking up the droplets and creating aerosols. When you’re speaking that is the same thing. That is not the same type of activity that you have in indoor sports activities.”

Gov Phil Murphy said during the COVID update last Wednesday common sense should be used, and suggested if a school had a one-man show, a mask might not be needed.

Morrison said wearing a regular mask during a performance is not only frustrating but it may also affect the interaction between performers and diminish the enjoyment of the audience because they can’t see the faces of the performers.

“You can use a clear mask as long as it’s well-fitting and it doesn’t inhibit the ability of the student to breath, there are clear masks," he added.

“Our students are back in schools with performing arts, with dance, with theatre, with music, visual art, and they’re creating and being able to express themselves again, something many of them have not been able to for 18 months," he said.

“As more and more students get vaccinated, as vaccines come into play for our younger students, I think all of this is subject to change.”

Arts Ed New Jersey is the state’s performing arts affiliate of the National Federation of State High School Associations, and it provides guidance on policies, curriculum and standards.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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