British Columbia

COVID-19 cases rise to 36 in Chilliwack dance studio 'superspreader' outbreak

A 'superspreader' event traced to the Capella Dance Academy is part of the rapidly rising coronavirus outbreak in the city and Fraser Health region.

Local minor hockey shuts down amid rapidly rising coronavirus numbers in the Fraser Health region

Capella Dance Academy shut down voluntarily on Oct. 28. So far, 36 cases of COVID-19 have been traced to the dance school. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

More cases of COVID-19 have been traced to the Capella Dance Academy in Chilliwack, bringing the total number of infected individuals associated with the business to 36.

Officials from Fraser Health have confirmed that the outbreak at the studio is now considered a "superspreader" event, with much higher transmission than the one or two new infections that normally result from every COVID-19 case.

"The good news is that all the cases who are associated with the outbreak have been identified and are isolating, as well as their close contacts," said Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin, chief medical health officer for Fraser Health.

"There are a number of exposures in the local school but I want to emphasize that those are only exposures, meaning that a person with COVID-19 was at school during their infectious period. So far, there have been no transmissions from the dance studio into the schools."

She said three of the 36 people who have tested positive are teachers at the academy, while the rest are students.

Also on Tuesday, the Chilliwack Minor Hockey Association became the latest sports organization to pause all activity, effective immediately, because of the rapidly rising rates of COVID-19 in the community. 

"The board of directors did not make this decision lightly," said president Lee McCaw. "Depending on how the Chilliwack outbreak evolves over the next seven to 10 days, or potentially longer, we will remain on a break."

Fraser Health has said it is working with local school districts to deal with potential exposure events linked to the outbreak at Capella Dance Academy. As of Tuesday afternoon, Brodkin said there have been known exposures at 13 schools.

Parent Krissy Barker said she received a notification Monday night about a positive case at her children's school, Rosedale Traditional Community School. One of the children in her daughter's class dances at Capella, Barker said, and parents were being asked to monitor their children for symptoms.

"It's been over a week since they were exposed and we're just getting the letter now. All it said was for her to self-monitor — she didn't need to stay home," Barker said.

"I kept her home, just because she may be asymptomatic and we don't know."

Numbers spiking in Fraser Health

The news of the outbreak came as COVID-19 numbers continue to set new records in B.C., with the majority of the 1,120 new cases announced Monday located in the Fraser Health region.

Brodkin said sports and physical activities seem to be problematic for the spread of the virus.

"One of the things we have observed is that large groups of people exercising together, whether in a gym or other setting, does appear to be a higher risk for COVID spread, therefore we will be looking closer at these settings in the coming weeks," she said.

Capella Dance Academy closed voluntarily on Oct. 27, one day after owner Sarah Wood tested positive for COVID-19 and four days after she began to feel ill.

A photo posted to the Capella Dance Academy Facebook page on Oct. 8 showing a class in progress. (Capella Dance Academy/Facebook)

In an email to CBC, Wood said she alerted her entire studio roster of her diagnosis the same day she closed the studio, absent of direction from Fraser Health. 

"I have done my very best to be proactive with the business and everyone's well-being, while fighting this virus myself in isolation, away from my husband and kids," she said.

"The facts are that [the virus] is in our community and regardless of all of the sanitizing, social distancing, masks in common areas it still made its way through our doors."

According to the Capella Dance Academy Facebook page, the school reopened from the initial COVID-19 shutdown on Sept. 21, 2020, "with all COVID protocols in place."

A photo of a dance class posted to the page on Oct. 8 shows a class with several students working out close to each other, ignoring what look like lines on the floor marking safe distance. No one is wearing a mask. 

Brodkin said it was difficult to tell from the photo what was happening at the studio from a COVID safety standpoint.

"Our environmental health officers will be on site this week before the studio reopens and we'll review their COVID safety plan," she said. 

With files from Tina Lovgreen