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Comic-Con’s COVID Policies Were (Mostly) a Super Hero-Sized Success

And the fans really stepped up their costume game in response

Comic-Con International announced its COVID-19 policies — a mask mandate, plus either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test — back at the beginning of May when the convention was already sold out. Of course, by early July the city and convention organizers were touting what they said was a “very, very positive” reaction to it. Nevertheless, we’ve all been conditioned by the last three years to expect much, much more objections from people.

And indeed, in the very first panel I attended Thursday morning at the formal start of San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — the excellent Disability Representation, On and Off Screen panel put together by the Inevitable Foundation — it looked to me like we might all have been in for several days of mass refusal to comply.

Dotted throughout the room were people dropping their masks below their noses or lifting them above their mouths, which of course is fairly common even in the most strictly enforced mask mandate situations. But then a SDCC attendee, entering the room about midway through the panel, casually removed his mask as soon as he sat down, huffing and puffing rather dramatically, and proceeded to literally pull out his phone and call someone while speaking with a wheezing, fake quietness that had everyone around him bugging their eyes with annoyance.

After a couple of minutes of this guy obstinately refusing to notice the whispers of “what the f-” from people sitting right in front of or behind him, I’d had enough; I leaned over and rasped at him to show some respect to the panel, get off the phone and put his damn mask on.

In any other context this would have been the prologue to a story about some anti-mask/antivaxx lunatic throwing a tantrum or starting a fight with strangers over rules designed to keep the number of pointless plague deaths to a minimum. Fortunately, this happened at Comic-Con, one of the last relatively non-toxic public *things* left in the United States. So instead of a freakout, the guy shamefacedly apologized, got off the phone, and popped his mask back on without further ado.

That, as it turns out, was the absolute nadir of COVID safety and mask compliance I personally witnessed all week. In stark contrast to now-years of stories of grown adults making fools of themselves over such mild asks, Comic-Con was, by and large, a sea of people politely respecting the convention’s mask requirement.

As my colleague Umberto Gonzalez noted, inside the convention center meeting rooms, and especially inside Hall H, security strictly enforced the mask policy, constantly reminding attendees to keep their masks on and, more crucially, to cover their entire mouth and nose. And that was in addition to the required orange wristbands verifying vaccination and/or negative COVID tests, without which no one could get into the building at all.

My colleague Adam Chitwood had similar observations. It was “shocking,” he said, how the convention center itself seemed to be the safest place when it came to protective measures against COVID. Even in Hall H — with its capacity of about 6,500 — the vast majority of attendees were wearing their masks in compliance with the rules without having to be reminded by security to put their masks back on.

Our colleague Drew Taylor said he was “surprised at how rigorously enforced the mask rule was,” and added that in his case, he actually felt much safer than he expected looking back on things.

That’s important because convention turnout was huge. By Saturday, the total number of people likely matched or exceeded 2019’s total of 130,000.

Enforcement was somewhat more lax on the actual convention floor, where at any given moment attendees were clustered. Every so often I noticed people flagrantly walking around without masks. But at least from my perspective, that was a rare occurrence, and for the most part, everyone was masked.

Not that attendees aren’t looking forward to the day when mask mandates aren’t necessary. One cosplayer I spoke to said she had no objections to the policy, but noted that it made things difficult for cosplayers whose get-ups depended on elaborate facial makeup, time and effort that can be ruined by masks, assuming that element of the costume doesn’t have to be discarded.

But generally, fans made mask lemonade out of COVID lemons, often devising creative ways to incorporate their masks with their costumes.

One very common trend was the use of firm, transparent masks — like the gentleman from Canada below — that complied with the mask mandate (and offered at least some — not a lot, but some — protection against the spread of COVID-19) while also allowing for full expressiveness.

Photo by Ross Lincoln

Others chose to color-coordinate with their costumes, like this inventive Scott Summers costume:

It’s still too early to tell if San Diego Comic-Con 2022 managed to avoid becoming a superspreader event, but given that similar policies kept New York’s Anime Expo safe, the odds look good. Between the wide open spaces, decent air filtration, vaccinations and high compliance with the mask mandate, from where I sit right now, SDCC turns out to have been not a bad way to ride out history at least one more time.

Umberto Gonzalez, Drew Taylor and Adam Chitwood contributed to this report.

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