Hamilton

Woman who contracted COVID-19 at Spinco Hamilton says the virus has been 'horrendous'

Spinco members say they're shocked by how quickly the Hamilton spin studio became the site of a massive COVID-19 outbreak.

Julia Smith is one of 72 positive COVID-19 cases linked to the studio

Julia Smith, 53, says she contracted COVID-19 after attending at spin class at Spinco in Hamilton. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Julia Smith woke up on Saturday aching all over and feeling like something was sitting on top of her.

The 53-year-old figured she had just pushed herself too hard during a recent workout but, when the symptoms didn't go away, a friend suggested she get tested for COVID-19.

Smith was tested the next day and contacted her Hamilton spin studio, Spinco, to tell staff she had symptoms of the virus.

She found out Wednesday that she had tested positive — one of 72 cases linked to the spin studio to date.

"It's been horrendous," she said of COVID-19 Thursday.

"Unbelievable fatigue, basically sleeping all day, all night. I had a lot of sinus pain as well. It's just the unbelievably heavy chest, really painful, and the body aches."

Forty-seven primary cases (45 patrons, two staff members) and 25 secondary "household spread" cases, such as friends, family or other contacts, have been connected to the outbreak at the James Street North location as of Thursday.

Based on a list of cases provided by Spinco, Smith believes she contracted the virus during a morning class on Sept. 29, and said she did not attend any other classes between that day and finding out she was infected.

Everyone she was in contact with 48 hours before she started feeling symptoms has tested negative, she said.

Riders shocked by spread

Despite becoming infected with the virus and being shocked at the size of the outbreak, Smith does not blame the studio or its owners Dr. Ira Price and Naz Zarezadegan — and she's not alone.

Like Smith, Gabby Giannetti has been riding at Spinco since its Hamilton location opened at the start of the year.

The 30-year-old said she was also surprised when she read an email saying COVID-19 may have infected her during a class at the studio.

But, unlike Smith, Giannetti tested negative.

"I'm shocked [the outbreak] has exploded," she said.

"I felt really safe there, I felt like practices were really great, with cleaning and distancing. I felt really great about going there."

The COVID-19 outbreak at Spinco on James Street North in Hamilton has infected at least 72 people. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Both women described temperature checks, answering screening questions from staff and being directed to wear a mask and maintain physical distancing anytime they weren't on a bike.

The bikes themselves were separated by at least two metres, as participants pedalled fast and hard. A coach would instruct loudly using a headset microphone, with music keeping the riders moving.

Giannetti added that staff consistently encouraged people to stay home if they or their household were feeling unwell and riders were told their membership could be put on hold without charge.

Even with those precautions, someone who attended classes between Sept. 28 and Oct. 5 had COVID-19.

Public health said on Oct. 6 it infected two customers and a staff member. The number of people who have tested positive has ballooned ever since.

Spinco pauses classes at Ontario studios

It's sad for Giannetti. She knows some may criticize the people who participated in the spin classes, even if she feels Spinco did everything they could to keep customers safe.

"I really love going there, to be honest. It's a really good environment to be in. They're really uplifting and motivating, it's really good exercise and ... it's really good anxiety release," Giannetti said.

"The owners are a nurse and a physician, they were so strict about everything … I'm shocked it happened to them."

Public health previously said the studio followed all the necessary safety procedures.

Price and Zarezadegan have also maintained that they followed provincial recommendations and have fully cooperated with officials, saying they wish everyone affected a "quick and full recovery."

Hamilton public health and the province have been discussing what more can be done to protect people using fitness centres during the COVID-19 pandemic following the Spinco outbreak. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

CBC News sent multiple requests for comment to Spinco Hamilton, but representatives didn't reply. A spokesperson for Spinco's corporate office indicated in a recent statement that it would not respond to further questions about the outbreak.

"While Spinco is certainly devastated that these cases have unfolded at one of our locations, we view this as part of our ongoing battle with a virus that is constantly changing, seemingly hourly," wrote founder Michelle August in the statement.

Spinco has since temporarily closed six of its seven spin studios in Ontario.

Hamilton Public Health Services initially identified at least 100 people who may have the virus, but the city's medical officer of health noted that on average, people with COVID-19 typically come into contact with an additional 20 to 25 people, making the potential scope of the outbreak much larger.

Province reviewing guidelines

A public health spokesperson said Thursday that the fact the outbreak has impacted so many, despite Spinco following the recommendations, "will likely contribute to a change in guidelines and practices moving forward."

The province has been in contact with local officials about Spinco and announced it will review its guidelines around gyms and fitness centres.

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario's Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, said she's asked the public health measures team to look at stricter measures for areas that haven't already been placed in Stage 2.

"We're looking at the health units where gyms are still allowed to be open and modifying or strengthening the measures that are being recommended in those settings," she said, adding she's hoping the new guidelines will be announced soon.

In the meantime, Hamilton public health is suggesting people consider wearing masks in exercise classes and avoid playing music so coaches and participants don't need to yell.

For her part, Smith agreed cutting down on the shouting during spin classes could keep riders safer and suggested a Plexiglass barrier around the instructor as another possible step.

She's hopeful the spin studio will survive the outbreak and, although she's still recovering from COVID-19, says she'd go back again once it reopens.

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