Toronto

City warns hundreds may have been exposed to COVID-19 at Brass Rail strip club

The City of Toronto says about 550 people may have been exposed to COVID-19 at a local strip club earlier this month.

Infected person was at the club last week

Public health officials are warning the public about a possible COVID-19 exposure at the Brass Rail Tavern. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

The City of Toronto says about 550 people may have been exposed to COVID-19 at a downtown strip club earlier this month.

Toronto Public Health says it is notifying people who visited the Brass Rail Tavern at 701 Yonge St. about a potential exposure.

Officials say an employee who tested positive for the virus was at the club on these dates and times:

  • Aug. 4 from 7 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 5
  • Aug. 5 from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Aug. 6
  • Aug. 7 from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Aug. 8
  • Aug. 8 from 7 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 9

Public health says there was no risk to anyone who went to the club outside of those occasions.

"As a precaution, [Toronto Public Health] is advising anyone who attended the Brass Rail Tavern during these dates and times to monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms for the 14 days after their last visit during this time period," the city said in a news release.

Public health officials say they have followed up with "all known close contacts" of the person who tested positive, and asked those people to self-isolate for two weeks and go get tested.

They are also directly notifying people who gave their name and contact information to the club for its contact tracing log, according to a news release. The club is working with public health to ensure all proper infection control reopening protocols are in place, which includes staff and patrons wearing masks, the city says.

CBC News has reached out to the Brass Rail for comment.

Mayor John Tory said Friday that this incident shows why it's important for businesses to keep a contact tracing log.

"I just hope the result of all the follow up that Toronto Public Health is doing proves that nobody contracted the virus from that person," he said.

Premier Doug Ford touched on the incident at his daily press conference Friday, saying that all businesses have follow health measures amid the pandemic.

"I know it sounds ironic talking about that, but you have to," Ford said. "They've got to follow the protocols."

Concerns over virus spread

Infectious disease epidemiologist Robyn Lee told CBC News that there's a clear potential for stigma in a situation like this, which might not make people act honestly when it comes to handing over their real name and phone number for for contact tracing.

"People may be less likely to be honest with their personal contact information," said Lee, who is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

"Let's be honest, not everyone has a partner who may agree with them going to a strip club."

Ford seemed to agree, too.

"I'm sorry for the spouse. Man, I wouldn't want to be on the end of that one," he said.

Public health officials say contact tracing is now underway. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

Lee said she doesn't think Ontario should have bars open at all right now, "let alone strip clubs.

"A concern with strip clubs I might have is lap dances, where people are in very close proximity with one another," she said.

"Bars seem to be these places where super-spreader events happen."

Avoiding stigma

But, she noted, no blame should be laid on the employee involved in this situation. People need to be cognizant that strip club employees are simply trying to earn a living — and if bars and clubs were to close over health concerns, supports need to be in place to assist those industries, she said.

"There should be no stigma associated with working in these environments," Lee said.

Andrea Werhun, Toronto performer, author and sex-worker advocate told CBC News that boundaries can be pushed sometimes in strip clubs — so it's important that workers are protected, especially in the midst of a pandemic.

"Sex workers are workers, and we deserve full decriminalization so that if sex workers are in these boundary-pushing situations during a pandemic, not only can we be open about the fact that customers are putting our lives in danger, but also about the business owners who are looking to benefit from our sexual labour," she said.

"I think it's important for business owners to ensure that their workers are as healthy as possible, so that the dancers can do their job and ensure their patrons are as healthy as possible as well."

According to the city's website, as of the afternoon of Aug. 12, 15,548 cases of COVID-19 have been reported to Toronto Public Health, while 14,132 people have recovered.

Health officials recommend that anyone who has symptoms or feels as though they may have been exposed to COVID-19 use the province's COVID-19 self-assessment tool.

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

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