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‘Just a shame’: Boch Center’s rapid COVID testing delays force families to forgo ‘Elf’ show

“We were overwhelmed. We just didn’t realize it was going to be that way.”

Michael Boucher entertained his kids, Mateo, 5 and Liliana, 3, as they lined up for COVID testing to attend the Elf on the Shelf performance at Boch Center on Nov. 26. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Over 200 ticket holders for a performance of “The Elf on the Shelf” at the Boch Center last week were refunded after the theater’s on-site rapid COVID-19 testing couldn’t keep pace with the demand for tests of unvaccinated children in line to see the show.

The Boston Globe’s “Fine Print” column reports the trouble happened the day after Thanksgiving and made for a disappointing experience for Ed and Rita Flynn, of Norwell, who brought their 4-year-old granddaughter and 8-year-old grandson into Boston to see the show.

They arrived early for the 3 p.m. performance and joined a line of hundreds of people, according to the newspaper.

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The line was for COVID-19 rapid tests, which the Boch Center provided to those who were not vaccinated. The Flynns’ 4-year-old granddaughter is too young to receive a vaccine for the virus.

The line barely moved and the crowd was informed the theater would delay the show until 4 p.m. When that time came, the Flynns were still on the sidewalk.

The family ultimately accepted a full refund and went home.

“It was just a shame,” Rita Flynn told the Globe. “Ed and I were looking forward to it as much as the children. But the whole experience was ruined. It was definitely a big disappointment.

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“We were really surprised how poorly the situation was handled,” she added.

Rita Flynn told the newspaper Ticketmaster e-mailed her in previous weeks to state that “proof of a negative test or COVID vaccination” was required. But she didn’t consider that even children too young for a vaccine would require a test, according to the Globe.

She wasn’t alone in that thought.

Over 500 people were tested at the Boch Center that day — roughly a quarter of all ticket holders, the Boch Center said.

Josiah A. Spaulding, Jr., chief executive of the Boch Center, said managers were “caught off guard” by the number of children requiring tests that day.

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“We are apologizing,” he told the newspaper. “I don’t blame people for feeling [upset]. It bothers me personally what happened.”

He added: “We were overwhelmed. We just didn’t realize it was going to be that way.”

According to Spaulding, a “clearer outline of policies and on-site protocols” will be given to ticket holders moving forward.

“We will make it as clear as possible to encourage parents and grandparents to make sure everyone who isn’t vaccinated gets tested, and not wait until the last minute,” he said.

“Did we do a good job of communicating? No. Can we do better? Yes. Will we do better? Yes,” he said.

About 50,000 people have attended performances at the Boch Center since September, and fewer than 4 percent of those were tested on-site, the Globe reports.

At other family-popular shows, such as “A Christmas Story: the Musical,” “Cirque Dreams Holidaze,” and “Urban Nutcracker,” testing will be available three hours beforehand in a tent next to the Wang Theater and testing staff will be tripled, Spaulding said.

“It’s unfortunate what happened, but we’ve learned some valuable lessons,” Spaulding said. “These are unprecedented times and we’re learning on the fly.”

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