San Diego Comic-Con kicks off its first in-person, full-sized event in over two years next Thursday with more than 130,000 people expected to attend. The first Comic-Con since the pandemic, with the exception of the mini special edition held last Thanksgiving weekend, will see the over 50-year-old event hit its highest-ever number of attendees wearing masks because, cosplaying or not, they will all be required to don one to get in.
“The main thing we discussed with everybody is that we were going to continue a mask mandate,” Comic-Con International’s chief communications officer and strategy officer David Glanzer told Variety Monday, when speaking of initial conversations with studios, networks and exhibitors about bringing everyone back for an in-person show. “We had that in the Comic-Con special edition, which was our smaller show that we had in November in San Diego. We had that at WonderCon, which is our sister show in Anaheim. And we just decided early on to continue that, even though there were a lot of entities that were not doing mask mandates. In fact, I did an interview where the outlet, I don’t know if they were critical, but they didn’t understand why we were having a mask mandate. And honestly, at the time, we wanted to try to be as safe as we could be, taking precautions that we felt were necessary.”
Amid reports that reinfections and hospitalizations are increasing with the spread of the BA.5 variant of COVID-19, the choice to carry the mask mandate put in place last November over to its flagship July 21-24 event is certainly a better-safe-than-sorry option for the premier fan event’s big return.
“With things still being so much in flux, we thought it prudent to be safer than not,” Glanzer said. “So that was primary among our discussions with all stakeholders. Now, some entities had no-travel restrictions. So we understood that there were some some groups that may not be able to attend, but honestly, there is no shame in that. The decision to attend Comic-Con has to be a personal one and we’re grateful to the groups that are coming down. And we totally understand those that might not feel comfortable doing so, and we let everybody know that.”
Per Comic-Con’s void policy, the mask mandate, as well as verification of full COVID-19 vaccination status or proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the event, will be protocols that apply to all Comic-Con attendees, “including but not limited to exhibitors, guests, staff, press, professionals, volunteers and cosplayers.”
According to Glanzer, there will be case-by-case exceptions made for the actual talent on stage during panels, who might not wear masks, depending on the protocols already put in place by studios, networks and other organizations to protect their casts and creatives.
“If the stage is in excess of six feet from the audience and those members on that panel — we’ve heard that a lot of members on panels have been traveling in bubbles and have verification of vaccination and/or negative tests — those panels probably may not,” the Comic-Con PR chief said. “But other panels might. It really will be dependent upon the criteria we’re shown when they show up.”
In an attempt to make the COVID-19 safety protocols as streamlined as possible, Comic-Con is partnering with free service Clear Health Pass to make screening quicker. The Clear mobile app allows users to upload proof of vaccination before arriving, or a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of entry, and the people who choose to use that service will be put in a special queue to enter.
“That is an experiment for us this year, in that, you can come and stand in line and get your verification process, or those people who utilize the Clear app might be able to get in quicker through the verification process,” Glanzer said.
Despite the number of safety protocols that Comic-Con International has put in place, there’s always the chance that con-goers could get infected. But Glanzer is optimistic that Comic-Con will go the way of the smaller WonderCon and the special edition of Comic-Con events, which “occurred without any major incidents.”
“We don’t typically talk about the specifics of that, but I will tell you that one of the things that we have all noticed is people are a lot more conscientious about their personal space and and actions than they ever were before… My hope, honestly, is that people will take precautions,” Glanzer said. “By having the mask mandate and everybody needing to wear a mask, my hope is that we’ll see a lot less of that happening. I know there have been other indoor conventions and events that didn’t have a mask mandate. And there were some people who got ill. We hope nobody does. But when you have as many people as you do at any event, I’m sure that something is bound to happen. But we are erring on the side of caution and hopeful that will be to a minimum.”