A COVID-19 outbreak has been declared at a dance studio in the Lower Mainland, and Fraser Health confirmed that’s also led to a number of exposure notices being sent to local schools.
The health authority says it declared the outbreak at Capella Dance Academy in Chilliwack on Monday and that 30 people have tested positive for the disease so far.
The dance studio, at 7949 Venture Pl., closed voluntarily last week. Fraser Health says contact tracing and management is still ongoing and everyone identified as a close contact has been instructed to self-isolate.
"Fraser Health will inspect the site and we are continuing to work with the dance academy to strengthen their COVID-19 mitigation strategies," the health authority's notice about the outbreak says.
"We are also working with the Chilliwack and Fraser-Cascade school districts to ensure they are informed of any potential exposure and are working together to ensure the safety of staff and students."
Fraser Health chief medical health officer Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin said the dance studio does have a COVID-19 safety plan in place.
"One of the things that we have observed, that large groups of people exercising together, whether that’s in a gym or another setting, does appear to be a higher risk setting for COVID-19 spread,” Dr. Brodkin said. “Therefore we will be looking closely at these settings over the coming days and weeks."
Over the weekend, exposure notices were issued at 10 schools in Chilliwack School District, and one was issued in Fraser-Cascade.
Dr. Brodkin emphasized the school notifications are just related to potential exposures, and “so far there has been no transmission beyond the dance studio into the schools.”
In a written statement to media, the owner of the dance studio outlined what she said was the timeline of the outbreak.
Sarah Wood said she woke up feeling like she had a cold on Friday, Oct. 23, got a COVID test, and hasn't left her home since.
She got her test results the following Monday, she said in a four-page statement, but was told by Fraser Health that officials didn't think she'd have to close the studio. Still, she said, she decided to close and contact parents.
"Please understand this was NEVER a cover-up or a 'secret' hiding of information," she wrote.
Parents have expressed frustration online about how long it took for them to be notified that there may have been associated exposures at schools.
The school district did not issue notifications to parents for nearly a week after Wood found out she was positive, though it is not clear when the school exposures occurred.
Letters were sent to parents at 10 schools on Nov. 1. It's something Wood said she had no control over.
She said she closed down on Tuesday, Oct. 27, and "emailed the entire studio roster" about her test results. On Thursday, she said, Fraser Health contacted her, told her when she would have been contagious, and sent her a letter to pass on to families of people who'd been in the studio on those days.
Wood said she decided to send it to everyone associated with the studio at that point, because she didn't think that was enough.
She wrote that many dancers chose to get tested, and some that didn't have symptoms did test positive.
On Monday, she said, Fraser Health asked her to send a blanket email to members of her studio to isolate for two weeks from the last day they were in the studio. She said she didn't know how many cases were tied to the outbreak until it was reported in the news.
"Of course my heart was broken," she said.
She urged anyone who thinks they just have a cold to get tested just in case, and that she doesn't know who she got the disease from.
"I don't leave town, I don't see friends or attend any gatherings… How many children have gone home or stayed home sick from school with a 'cold' and not been tested… it's in the grocery stores, it's in the large and small businesses," she wrote, addressing the outbreak in the city.
Over the weekend, exposure notices were issued at 10 schools in Chilliwack School District, and one was issued in Fraser-Cascade. Fraser Health did not say whether those school exposures were connected to the dance studio, however.
Following the declaration, the Chilliwack Minor Hockey Association said its board of directors has decided to pause all activity for the time being.
The board said the pause in the season will depend on how the outbreak evolves over the next seven to 10 days.
The health authority is reminding people to stay home when they're sick, practice physical distancing, wash their hands frequently and keep social circles small.
As of Tuesday morning, 15,501 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in B.C. Of those, 9,049 were recorded in the Fraser Health region.