Ontario allows dance studios in COVID-19 hotspots to reopen with restrictions
TORONTO -- Dance studios in parts of Ontario that are currently in a modified version of Stage 2 can now reopen their doors with some restrictions.
The provincial government has modified its emergency orders to allow studios to operate as long as dancers are pre-registered for classes and maintain physical distancing.
“I can confirm that indoor dance classes can resume in modified Stage 2 regions after a decision taken by our government with the advice of the CMOH and the Ministry of Health,” Ontario’s Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Minister Lisa MacLeodsaid in a tweet Monday evening. “All participants must be pre-registered and maintain at least two metres apart.”
MacLeod told CTV News Ottawa that studios must also stick to indoor gathering rules allowing no more than 10 people in a studio at once.
Studios in the COVID-19 hotspot regions of Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Ottawa had previously been ordered to close as the province battles a second wave of the virus.
Health officials cited indoor fitness activities and activities like dance as high-risk due to the risk of aerosol transmission of the virus in a confined space where masks are difficult to keep on.
MacLeod told CP24 earlier Monday that she was working with her colleagues at the health table to “bring in line” dance class studios to similar activities like cheerleading, swimming and other sports that have not been shut down under the new restrictions.
On Oct. 10, dance studios, along with gyms, fitness centres, movie theatres and indoor dining were ordered to shut down in Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa as the provincial government placed Stage 2 restrictions on the regions for 28 days.
The restrictions were put in place in response to a surge of COVID-19 cases in those areas since the end of September.
Premier Doug Ford said if he didn’t act then to reduce the spread of the virus he would have been “negligent.”
“All trends are going in the wrong direction. Left unchecked we risk the worst case scenarios first seen in Italy and New York City (in the spring),” Ford warned at a news conference earlier this month.
A week later, Ford announced that York Region would also revert to a modified version of Stage 2 due to rising case counts.
As of Monday, all four regions are under the restrictions, which also close casinos and reduce social gathering limits to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors.
On Sunday, MacLeod tweeted that she “heard from dance studios loud and clear” and was working with the Chief Medical Officer of Health and the command table on “options to ensure a safe resumption.”
“We continue to monitor the situation and we completely sympathize with all of those who have been shut down but they have been for a reason because the Chief Medical Officer of Health and our command table believe the spread of COVID-19 could be amplified in those locations,” Macleod said.
She said dance studios should be treated like other team sports which are still allowed to resume under the new restrictions but must be limited to training sessions and no games or scrimmages.
“In the case of dance studios, they should be more in line with traditional sports and other similar activities but it's also something that we were dealing with with the performance arts. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, although they were shut down immediately during the initial Stage of COVID-19 we were able to adapt the performance arts and so we were able to make a change last Friday with that as well,” she told CP24.
Premier Ford commented on the restrictions on dance studios during his daily COVID-19 news conference on Monday and said he's doing everything he can to safely reopen them.
“[We're] working with Dr. Williams and the health table and I know cabinet will be discussing this this afternoon and we’ll have more to say after that but I’m a big supporter of the dance studios."
Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said "physical activity is important" and that she is in favour of dance studios reopening as long as they can follow health and safety protocols.
"I think whatever you do you have to remember that any contact with people that are not in your household, that you can’t keep at least two metres apart, that’s where the concern is. So we’d have to be sure that that would be able to be done," Yaffe stated at a press conference on Monday.
In an interview with CP24, Canadian recording artist Shawn Desman said he has danced since he was a child and added that dance studios should be treated "fairly" and in the "same realm" as other children's activities.
He also said many studios have implemented strict health and safety protocols to prevent the spread of the virus.
"They have gone above and beyond with protocols to make sure the spaces are safe for the dancers, and parents I want you to know that I’ve seen first-hand, I’ve actually been a part of making my wife’s studio safe for dancers to go into, so they have taken every precaution," Desman said.
As of Monday morning, almost 25,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org for dance studios to be allowed to operate in the hotspot regions.