Dear Milwaukee Rep Family,
As Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s chief medical advisor, I work with dedicated public health and theater experts to ensure that Milwaukee Rep’s theaters are the safest place in Milwaukee outside of your home. This has been accomplished by significantly upgrading air filtration, ensuring much higher air changes per hour (ACH), requiring vaccinations or recent negative tests for all audiences, and mandating the use of face masks. Since reopening in April 2021, we have welcomed back more than 75,000 patrons to sold-out performances without a single case of COVID-19 being traced back to our audiences.
With the arrival of the Omicron variant, questions about the risks associated with attending performances resurfaced. While this is not how we wanted to begin the new year, we remain hopeful for what 2022 will bring. While infections in the vaccinated are more common, data shows that Omicron is not causing serious illness at nearly the rates of previous variants, particularly in vaccinated individuals. The most recent data out of the Wisconsin Department of Health shows that in every 100,000 vaccinated people, there are 18 hospitalizations – a risk of 0.018%.
COVID likely will never fully go away, however, the CDC estimates that 44% of Americans have had and recovered from COVID, and that is growing each day. This is causing experts to hypothesize that this is finally what brings an end to the pandemic as COVID transitions to being endemic, like seasonal cold viruses or the flu. Until that happens, each person will need to assess the risks for themselves as sheltering at home doesn’t seem practical or necessary for the vast majority of the population. In a recent interview on PBS, public health expert and former White House Advisor Ezekiel Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D., stated “If you are vaccinated and boosted, your chance of dying from COVID is 1 in 34,000. That is very, very safe.” To put that in perspective with other daily activities, your risk of dying in a car accident is 1 in 107, and death due to choking on food is 1 in 2,535.
While not minimizing COVID-19 or its impacts on many of us, our challenge ahead will be both operational and psychological as we learn to live with the virus. Heading into our third year of COVID, years of anxiety have caused a fear of testing positive, even if asymptomatic. Due to our experience before vaccines, we have been conditioned to believe that a COVID diagnosis comes with a high likelihood of severe illness and hospitalization. While the data shows otherwise for 99.99% of vaccinated people, it remains a lot to confront emotionally. Coupled with the fact that many of us have sacrificed the best of what life has to offer now for years, we have to seek to balance our true risk vs the value of what we are leaving behind.
The time to return to activities is a decision that only you can make, but I’ll leave you with this – the next time you run to the grocery store, ask yourself if everyone in the store is fully vaccinated, had a recent negative test, and is required to wear a mask – because they are in our theaters.
Wishing you a happy and healthy new year filled with life-affirming, joyous theater shared with family and friends.
Mark Niedfeldt, M.D.
Dr. Mark Niedfeldt, M.D. graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater magna cum laude and went on to earn his M.D. from the Medical College of Wisconsin. He completed his residency in Family Medicine through the Medical College of Wisconsin’s program at St. Mary’s Hospital, where faculty and peers nominated him as Chief Resident. He subsequently completed a fellowship in Primary Care Sports Medicine at MCW. He has served the residents of the Milwaukee area for over 20 years as Associate Professor, clinician, teacher, researcher, and Associate Director of the Primary Care Sports Medicine Fellowship program at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Dr. Niedfeldt is currently on the medical staff at Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital, Columbia St. Mary’s Milwaukee and Ozaukee as well as the Orthopedic Hospital of Wisconsin. With his avid interest in sports medicine and athletics, Dr. Niedfeldt enjoys serving as team physician for the Milwaukee Brewers, the US National Snowboarding and Free-skiing Teams, Wisconsin Lutheran College, and Concordia University. He previously worked with the Milwaukee Bucks, Milwaukee Wave, Milwaukee Wave United, Milwaukee Rampage and the Milwaukee Ballet. https://www.drniedfeldt.com/