As the Samford community anticipates the beginning of Step Sing performances this weekend, Step Sing directors received final confirmation on whether or not participants will have to wear masks on stage while they perform. The Step Sing Leadership team also updated directors regarding COVID testing during the week leading up to the performances. The Samford Crimson spoke to multiple students who are participating in the upcoming shows to confirm the planned changes. Several students provided details, but asked not to be named. The Samford Crimson also reached out to the university for further confirmation and a statement regarding these updates.
Holly Gainer, Director of University Communication, confirmed that Step Sing participants will not be required to wear masks when actively performing on stage, but will be given free disposable masks to wear whenever they are in the audience or waiting backstage to perform. Participants who choose to wear masks while performing will be allowed to do so.
Gainer said the changes to on-stage masking policy were made based on campus data, cooperation with testing requirements last week and adherence to indoor mask wearing requirements.
“Immediately prior to taking the stage, masks are to be thrown away in trash cans on the loading dock side of the stage. Following each performance, all participants and prop assistants will receive a new mask to wear for the remainder of the show,” Gainer said in an email to the Crimson. .
Gainer also stated that all audience members who attend any Step Sing shows at the Wright Center will be required to wear a mask, per Samford’s COVID-19 policy of masks being required in all indoor facilities.
As for the previously planned additional round of COVID testing of all participants on Wednesday prior to Step Sing, sources who spoke with the Crimson said Step Sing leadership announced that the tests would be moved until after the shows. Rather than test on Jan. 26 as Step Sing as participants had initially been under the impression would happen, all participants will now be required to test Tuesday morning on Feb. 1, three days after Step Sing has ended.
Asked about the reasoning behind the change in when testing will be conducted, Gainer said the change is “consistent with prior practices when the university attempted to identify hotspots with designated testing efforts at specific times.”
All Step Sing participants and prop assistants will undergo mandatory testing between 7-11 a.m. in the Howard Room of the University Center.
“Testing after Step Sing will better allow testing efforts to detect and isolate additional cases,” Gainer said. “Testing has not been removed prior to Step Sing and on-campus testing continues to take place each weekday at the rapid testing clinic Monday-Friday from 7-8:30 a.m.”
Gainer said that any participants or prop assistants who are not cleared to attend class due to COVID-19 will not be permitted to participate in Step Sign until their clear date. Additionally, Gainer said any students who are sick or do not feel well with any illness should not participate.
“Given the transmissibility of the Omicron variant, the most prudent practice is to test following the performances,” Gainer said. “In the end, Step Sing participants will be tested three times in three weeks, which is more than any other group of students on campus with the exception of in-season athletes.”
Asked to clarify the timing of the three tests in three weeks, Gainer said the first test was part of the required testing all students had to undergo prior to returning to classes, the second during the week leading up the Step Sing, and the third is the planned testing on Feb. 1.
Step Sing directors were notified via email regarding these changes on Tuesday, and have since told participants in their respective groups about these updates.
The updated protocols come after Samford saw a recent spike in COVID cases last week when a total of 61 students tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 18. The increase in positive cases correlates with the same time Step Sing participants were being tested before their first tech rehearsals in the Wright Center. However, in the email to the Crimson, Gainer said the increase is consistent with what Samford has seen at the beginning of the last four semesters.
“In each of the past four semesters, we have seen the largest number of positive cases during the first weekend after returning to campus and on the first day after a weekend,” Gainer said.
She explained that although the timing of the increase in cases is correlated with the initial testing of Step Sing participants, “suggesting that the increase is caused by Step Sing is not accurate.”
It is unclear from the way the data are presented on the website how many students who tested positive were also Step Sing participants. Samford University nursing students and faculty conducted these tests for Step Sing participants in the Wright Center lobby between Jan. 18 and Jan. 21, depending on each group’s planned rehearsal schedule.
“The rate of positivity was no higher or lower than the rest of the campus,” Gainer said, referring to the positivity rate among Step Sing participants. “While more testing will yield more positives, the increase of cases is no different than what we have seen in the past when testing upon return to campus in the absence of Step Sing.”
Throughout campus, Samford reminds students to “Protect Samford” through a variety of posters, one with the phrase “Protect Your Traditions,” which includes a photo of participants in the previous Step Sing show in 2020. Masks are currently required in all indoor locations including the University Center, cafeteria and classrooms.
Tickets for Step Sing this year are currently sold out for the Friday and Saturday evening shows, but tickets to the Thursday evening and Saturday matinee shows are still available.
Started in 1951, Step Sing is an annual tradition on Samford’s campus that draws hundreds of audience members and has in years past raised money for a local philanthropy or charity.
Editor’s Note: The author of this story, as well as other members of The Samford Crimson staff are Step Sing participants this year.