The Portland Country Dance Community (PCDC) has suspended indoor in-person dance events.
This decision will be reconsidered when the CDC has rated the four Portland metro counties (Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties in Oregon, Clark county in Washington) at a level of Covid transmission as Moderate (yellow) or less for at least two weeks, and CDC, Oregon, and County government mandates and guidelines allow for indoor, in-person gatherings. PCDC committees can then submit plans and guidelines to address the additional risks of dancing to the Board for approval.
Here’s information from a discussion with Kimbi Hagen, EdD. Kimbi is an associate professor, in Public Health, at Emery University in Atlanta. She has a focus on vaccines. She is also a long-time contra dancer and dance organizer (excerpted August 15, 2021):
Big sigh. This has been such a hard 18 months for all of us and it is difficult to take on board the fact that it simply isn’t over yet, despite how diligent so many of us have been in following all of the public health guidelines, including getting vaccinated.
The reason that Multnomah County can find itself in the seemingly paradoxical position of having both high rates of vaccination AND high rates of infection is due entirely to the Delta variant, which has been determined to be as contagious as chickenpox.
“As contagious as chickenpox” means that if one person has the Delta variant up to 90% of the people who come into close contact with that person will also become infected.
WHAT DOES “CLOSE CONTACT” MEAN?
Standing close enough to breathe in the air that someone else is breathing out.
For contra dancers that means the danger will always be highest during swings, right shoulder rounds, hay for four in tight quarters, balance toward your partner/neighbor, etc.
It also means that the cone of danger will get bigger and bigger the harder an infected person is breathing out and/or an uninfected person is breathing in.
When dancers are breathing hard, and depending on direction of airflow, the danger posed by an infected dancer could extend to the people in the next hands four or, for a couple of minutes, to any dancers coming up and down the line who cross into the airspace that dancer just occupied.
To more easily visualize this, imagine contradancing with various rates of vigor in a room cold for enough to see their breath.
Touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with something someone else breathed / coughed / sneezed on a moment ago.
For contra dancers that means touching your face after holding hands, even briefly, with an infected person who has recently had their own hand near their face when they coughed, sneezed, cleared their throat, muffled a yelp of delight, sang along with the band, or did anything else that put that hand in contact with whatever was emanating from their mouth and nose.
Note: COVID is a respiratory disease so a contra dancer is not at risk for anything beyond getting grossed out by touching someone else’s sweat-soaked back or shirt
AM I AT RISK FOR BEING PART OF THE 90% EVEN IF I AM FULLY VACCINATED?
Yes. Because although the current crop of vaccines seem to be quite good at keeping fully vaccinated people from getting sick, ending up in the hospital, and dying from all the currently known types of SARS-CoV-2 (including the Delta variant), they are not as good at the very much harder job of keeping a vaccinated person from becoming infected — and therefore infectious — in the first place. Particularly from the Delta variant.
BUT ISN’T THERE A WAY TO TELL WHEN PEOPLE ARE CONTAGEOUS?
Not always. Respiratory diseases are famous for making people super infectious while asymptomatic (no sign of illness) or pre-symptomatic (no sign of illness YET). For example, most people who catch flu, chickenpox, or measles out in the community do so from someone who has no idea that they are even sick yet because they are still pre-symptomatic.
So most fully vaccinated dancers will have NO idea that they may be shedding infectious virions of the Delta variant up and down the line with each exhaled breath because: a) they don’t feel sick, b) vaccinated people are not routinely tested, and c) everything in their prior personal experience has taught them that vaccinated = uninfected.
DOES WEARING A MASK HELP?
Yes, a lot! But, in the Delta variant world we have all suddenly found ourselves plunged into, it only helps if everyone — including vaccinated people — wear them while in close contact with other people. And a lot of people find it really difficult to dance hard for more than a short time in masks.
Dancers seem to particularly dislike the N95 masks currently being advocated because they have a very close fit (thereby making them safer than standard masks) which makes it more difficult to breathe hard (thereby making them a bummer).
A good alternative is to double mask with a “surgical” type mask under a cloth mask. That combination increases safety while, inexplicably, also making it easier to breathe than through a cloth mask alone and reduces glasses fogging. Win-Win!
WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN FOR MULTNOMAH COUNTY?
Because of the Delta variant, Multnomah County has a large population of fully vaccinated people who have become unwitting, asymptomatic transmitters of COVID-19 to everyone around. Causing your COVID cases to surge.
WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN FOR CONTRA DANCING?
Pragmatically, because of the Delta variant it will be very difficult to hold a risk-free contra dance right now, even at vaccinated only events as a single vaccinated person who unknowingly has the Delta variant could unwittingly pass it on to an entire room full of other vaccinated dancers over the course of the evening, for all of the reasons that I described above. Those newly infected dancers could then unwittingly take it home to their children, grandchildren, non-dancing family members, immunocompromised dinner guests, and anyone else who is unvaccinated, under-vaccinated, or even fully vaccinated.
BUT WHAT IF WE ASKED FOR PROOF OF NEGATIVE TEST RESULTS AT THE DOOR?
Testing is super helpful in identifying infectious people but it is not completely protective for Dance because it’s all about the timing. A negative test result from 24 hours ago just means a person’s test results were negative 24 hours ago. It DOESN’T mean they didn’t get infected 23 hours ago or prove that they weren’t infected up to several days ago but had not yet mounted a measurable response by the time the test was conducted. In both scenarios, a person with a negative test result from 24 hours ago may very well still be infected and at risk for passing their infection on to all of their partners, neighbors, shadows, and trail buddies without anyone knowing it.
Some dances are paying for test kits to do on-site testing. That will eliminate the “got infected 23 hours ago” possibility but not the “got infected too recently to mount a measurable test response” possibility.
WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE WHO HAD COVID AND ARE OVER IT NOW? CAN THEY SAFELY DANCE / PLAY / CALL?
The jury is still out on that. There have been reports from the beginning of the pandemic of people becoming sick more than once, but it seemed to be rare. Delta is so new that the data are still limited on whether people who have had Covid are any more or less susceptible to becoming asymptomatically infected — and infectious — if they run into the Delta variant. Given how rapidly the Delta variant is surging there should start being epidemiological reports about that reasonably soon though. Stay tuned.
IS ENGLISH SAFER THAN CONTRA FOR DANCERS?
Yes, it is safer (albeit not completely safe).
IS ENGLISH SAFER THAN CONTRA FOR MUSICIANS, CALLERS, AND SOUND?
No. Particularly in the case of flute or clarinet players and anyone else who can’t realistically wear a mask while playing/calling. In addition, I have also been hearing from musicians, callers, and sound techs that it is hard on their mental health when they start feeling trapped in place by lines of dancers or people out at the top who stray closer and closer to them and that they experience schizophrenic moments of joy mixed with panic when dancers start cheering (read: exhaling hard) in their direction after a dance, particularly if the dancers are also crowding around them while vocally expressing their enthusiastic appreciation.