Preparing for a Healthy Fall Dance Season
September 1, 2021
Disclaimer: Ontario is currently in Step 3 of Ontario’s Roadmap to Reopen: O. Reg. 364/20: RULES FOR AREAS AT STEP 3 AND AT THE ROADMAP EXIT STEP under Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020, S.O. 2020, c. 17. This guidance is not intended as legal or medical advice. It should be used only in conjunction with applicable legislation and current guidance from government and public health authorities.
September means “back to school” but for many, it also means “back to dance”. Dancers need to create, and students need to experience the joy of dance – now more than ever.
With COVID-19, provincial regulations continue to evolve (including an Ontario vaccine mandate announced today), you need to apply the requirements to your unique circumstances. Here are some recommendations for planning.
Risk assessment is a helpful tool you can use for planning. Keep in mind that, just because you can dance with minimal precautions, it doesn’t mean you should. Consider your activities, the people who will be involved, the likelihood and severity of potential illness, and the controls or precautions you will implement to ensure a minimal risk to health. FYI, here is some general info (not specific to COVID-19): Risk Assessment for Productions Safety Guideline for the Live Performance Industry in Ontario (Ministry of Labour Training and Skills Development).
- What activities are you planning? Private, small group or large group classes? Rehearsals? Performances?
- Where will you dance? Outdoors or indoors; small studio or large studio; excellent ventilation or poor ventilation?
- How long will you dance? Short or long classes / rehearsals?
- Who will be involved? Children under age 12, healthy adults, people who are vulnerable due to medical conditions?
Likelihood – What is the probability the hazard will cause illness? (Source: Develop your COVID-19 workplace safety plan (Government of Ontario))
- The potential for COVID-19 transmission is higher
- Prolonged exposure – spending more time with potentially infected people
- Close proximity – working close to others
- Crowded places – having more people in a space
- Closed spaces – indoor spaces with less fresh air (working indoors is riskier than working outdoors)
- Forceful exhalation – activities that cause people to breath more deeply, such as exercise, speaking loudly and singing
Severity – How serious could the illness be?
- Assume that anyone could potentially be unvaccinated and infected with COVID-19.
- The risk of infection, severe illness and death is higher for people who are unvaccinated.
- At present, children under age 12 cannot be vaccinated.
Controls – Choose multiple layers of precautions to protect against COVID-19 transmission.
QUESTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Can dancers/students take their masks off while actually dancing or rehearsing?
Every person must wear a mask or face covering in a manner that covers their mouth, nose and chin when indoors, unless entitled to an exception as noted in the regulation. One of these exceptions means that this requirement does not apply to a person who is performing or rehearsing. (Source: O. Reg. 364/20: RULES FOR AREAS AT STEP 3 AND AT THE ROADMAP EXIT STEP, Schedule 1, section 3)
Also, this guidance for a return to school COVID-19: Health, safety and operational guidance for schools (2021-2022) (Government of Ontario) says: “Where they can be worn safely based on the activity, masking is encouraged for engaging in physical activity” (Proactive strategies – student masks) and “Masking is encouraged for indoor sports where they can be worn safely based on the activity” (Health and physical education).
At a minimum, masks must be worn when entering, moving within, and exiting the building, as well as during breaks indoors. A mask or face covering may be temporarily removed to consume food or drink.
You may choose to always require masks, or allow them to be removed during class, rehearsal and/or performance.
When are rapid tests required vs. screening only?
Rapid tests are not required, but they can be used as an additional precaution. These tests don’t replace public health measures, such as symptom screening, physical distancing, masking and hand hygiene, but they can be used to detect COVID-19 in people who have no symptoms.
Are there protocols/best practices for administering rapid tests on site that respect performers privacy? Who within the organization should have access to the results?
If you choose to do rapid testing, you’ll need to select a person trained on how to:
- Administer the tests, so they can train the dancers and workers
- Plan the testing schedule
- Set up screening locations
- Record test and report results
- Respond to a presumed positive or inconclusive/invalid result
All information must be secured to maintain privacy.
For more information, check out these resources:
- If your organization is eligible, you can get free rapid tests through the Ontario government or participating Ontario Chambers of Commerce.
- COVID-19 Guidance: Considerations for Privately Initiated Testing (May 21, 2021, Ministry of Health)
- Guidance on Rapid Testing in the Workplace (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety)
- Vax-Pass Tenets (Ontario Chamber of Commerce)
When evaluating vaccine policy and/or testing policy what are some important considerations (privacy, legality, safety) in both creating and communicating these policies?
Ontario will require people to be fully vaccinated and provide proof of their vaccination status to access certain businesses and settings starting September 22, 2021. Focusing on higher-risk indoor public settings where face coverings cannot always be worn, this includes theatres. Here are the details:
- Ontario to Require Proof of Vaccination in Select Settings (Government of Ontario)
- Ontario Makes COVID-19 Vaccination Policies Mandatory for High-Risk Settings
- New Requirement for Proof of Vaccination in Certain Settings: Frequently Asked Questions
In addition, some venues, including those on college and university campuses may have vaccines mandates.
Depending on your organization, you may be thinking about your own vaccination and/or testing policies. If so, assess the risk of COVID-19 transmission for your organization and consider:
- human rights and accessibility
- labour and employment law
- health care consent
- occupational health and safety
The Ontario government is expected to announce a vaccine passport system soon. In the meantime, these resources can help with your planning:
- COVID-19 vaccines and workplace health and safety (August 25, Government of Ontario)
- COVID-19 Vaccination and Workplaces (August 30, 2021, Hamilton Public Health)
- Developing a COVID-19 vaccination policy for your workplace
- Key components of a workplace vaccination policy
- Vaccination and Workplaces: Frequently Asked Questions
In a rental situation (studio or theatre), who is ultimately responsible for the safety plan and protocols for screening and testing? The renter or the rentee or a combination?
Collaboration is key because both parties have a vested interest in keeping people healthy. Every employer (including each venue and rental client) is responsible for developing their own COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plan, including screening protocols. The renter and rentee should share their plans with each other and review contracts to clarify who is responsible for which tasks related to health and safety.
In what contexts can dancers be in close proximity for rehearsal or performance purposes? Does the classification of the venue dictate this? For example, if filming something not in a studio or a theatre?
Close proximity puts people at risk of COVID-19 transmission, so it needs to be planned with care. Guidance is available for dance studios, live performance, and film and TV.
If you are operating a dance studio, the requirements for businesses that provide teaching and instruction would apply (see O. Reg. 364/20: RULES FOR AREAS AT STEP 3 AND AT THE ROADMAP EXIT STEP, Schedule 2, section 14) which says:
"The space for any in-person teaching or instruction must be operated to enable students to maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from every other person in the space, except where necessary for teaching and instruction that cannot be effectively provided if physical distancing is maintained."
You can define when you need to be closer than 2 metres to effectively provide teaching and instruction. The regulation also includes requirements for capacity limits, active screening, and collecting contact information.
The requirements for Concert venues, theatres and cinemas would apply (see O. Reg. 364/20: RULES FOR AREAS AT STEP 3 AND AT THE ROADMAP EXIT STEP, Schedule 2, section 22). This includes ensuring the production operates in in accordance with the Live performance health and safety during COVID-19 (Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development). Refer to the Departmental Guidelines section about Performers. Here are some excerpts:
In rehearsal and studio use
- Maintain a physical distance of two metres wherever possible.
- Directors and choreographers should direct performer movement while maintaining physical distance and should avoid physically touching performers to move them.
Put measures in place to permit performers to maintain physical distance from other performers, and from other workers, whenever possible. Considerations for such protocols may include:
- reducing or eliminating Extras.
- reducing the number of workers in large gathering areas such as backstage and green rooms or other waiting areas. Establish and post occupancy limits. Limit access to essential personnel only.
- marking areas on stages to ensure each worker is assigned a designated area in which they can move about to maintain physical distancing with other workers…
Have appropriate measures in place in circumstances when 2 metres of physical distance cannot be maintained. Such measures may include:
- performers wearing masks and face shields whenever possible.
- putting a clear barrier between performers, if possible.
- requiring any individuals, such as wardrobe personnel, who interact with a performer at a distance of less than two metres to wear a medical mask and face shield and to wash or sanitize hands.
- considering measures other than physical distancing and PPE for performances that require close contact between performers, such as intimate or fight scenes. Such measures may include limiting the repetition of physical touching. Discuss protocols with appropriate personnel for performers who have scenes that require closeness or intimacy, and schedule those scenes strategically. Performers have the right to exercise work refusal if close contact (such as hugging, kissing and some stunts) is added without appropriate preplanning and hygiene protocols in place.
- where performers will touch one another during a scene, requiring the performers to wash or sanitize their hands immediately before and after each scene.
Film and TV
The requirements for commercial film and television production would apply (see O. Reg. 364/20: RULES FOR AREAS AT STEP 3 AND AT THE ROADMAP EXIT STEP, Schedule 2, section 20). This includes ensuring the production operates in in accordance with the Film and television health and safety during COVID-19 (Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development). Refer to the section about Performers – Maintaining physical distance on set.
TIPS FOR SUCCESS
- Your plan for the fall season needs to be as unique as your organization or project.
- Consider surveying (ideally, anonymously) your dancers and, for young dancers, their families, to understand their comfort levels and preferences.
- Choose activities you can reasonably accomplish safely.
- Plan for multiple layers of controls (precautions) and leans towards more cautious choices.
- Watch for new requirements and be ready to adapt.
- Remember, creativity and problem-solving are your super-powers!
Janet Sellery is a former theatre stage manager and current Health & Safety Consultant (Sellery Health + Safety) specializing in the arts, entertainment and live events.
PS. Our daughter is a RAD ballet teacher outside Ontario. She has gone from teaching 19 weekly zoom classes to filming exams to holding classes outdoors then back to the studio. I have so much admiration for dancers, creators and teachers who continue to keep dance alive during these times.
Janet as a snowflake, Dorothy Carter School of Dance Arts, London ON (early 1970’s)