BACDS COVID policy workgroup's goals and approaches

The workgroup decided that our goal should be to prevent people in our community from picking up COVID at any of our events. (Organizers for other events may be ok with infections happening at their events; not us, though.) Our approach is to maximize safety for everyone — while still preserving the essential characteristics of this art form. One of those characteristics is live music; another is dancing together in groups instead of with only one partner. To keep those elements, we expose ourselves to SARS-CoV-2 and other germs at much higher levels than nearly all other activities of daily life - so we think it’s appropriate to be more careful, too.

Especially when the current dominant variants are so very contagious, predictions for the next dominant variants are that they’ll get even more transmissible and more able to escape antibodies. Especially when this disease is easily spread by people who don’t even know they have it. And especially when the average age of our community is noticeably older; as a group, we’re more vulnerable to serious disease, to long COVID, to dying.

The type of dancing we do is aerobic; we breathe more deeply, exhaling more volume than most other social activities. Compared to most sports, there are greater levels of close body contact, shared with large numbers of other people - primarily indoors, too. Musicians and sound engineers are not protected from dancers’ aerosols to the same extent as performers on a stage or in the orchestral pit at a performance; they’re very exposed to whatever dancers are putting out into the air. The workgroup concluded that adopting the same policies as school sports, choirs, performances, or even studio dance classes would not be a good fit for what we do at BACDS events.

What are the tools for lowering risk, reducing harm? Masks help a lot, but they’re not sufficient just by themselves. Home antigen tests are an imperfect tool, but they’re currently what’s easily available to identify infection with up to the minute results. Data shows that vaccination is key to avoid dying, and excellent prevention against serious disease — but immunity wanes over time, and as newer variants evolve to be more infectious and transmissible. (Antibodies acquired from getting sick with COVID also wane over time, so “natural immunity” is not safe to rely upon either.)

To lessen the chance of breakthrough infections, the workgroup believes that BACDS should require not only initial vaccination but also the most up-to-date boosters available (as appropriate). To lower the chance of bounce-back infection, we recommend that people who have had a positive test for COVID (and also those who had a person in their household test positive for COVID) stay away from our dances for a longer period of time than the current CDC guidelines (which presume that people recovering from COVID will not have much close contact with other people).

Recap - our tools are:

What epidemiologists and infection control experts tell us is that multiple layered protections work best. For BACDS that means masks, vaccination including boosters, testing when infection rates are high, and staying away if you or someone else in the household has symptoms or tests positive. For now, we need all four legs of this metaphorical table. We really hope that infection rates, rates of serious illness, and of long COVID will decline enough that the table could still stand on only three legs — but we’re not there yet. (All statements by politicians to the contrary; wastewater surveillance is a *lot* more trust-worthy.) Despite fewer hospitalizations, COVID still causes roughly 400 deaths per day(*) in the U.S.; this pandemic is not yet over.

The proposed policies are pretty much in line with what similar participatory dance organizations are doing. (We’re on the conservative side, to be sure, but there are several that are just as careful, and some more so.) Among CDSS affiliates, it seems like most require at least initial vaccination against COVID, also masking; we’re not alone in those.

The workgroup acknowledges that not everyone who danced with us, or played music for us, or made our dances happen in the Before Times can meet the new requirements – and BACDS’ dances are poorer for that. We recognize it can hurt deeply to find ourselves on the wrong side of requirements, unable to join a dance, to be told that we can’t take part in something we love and that may be so much a part of who we are. It’s so easy to take that as a personal rejection or to feel shamed. Not our intent at all, but we acknowledge with poignant regret these policies can have that effect. Yes, it is very important for BACDS to be inclusive — but the workgroup interprets inclusivity to mean making dance events as safe as possible for the greatest number of people. At the present time, it’s a “safety of the many vs satisfying the needs of some others” dilemma; unfortunately, in the balance, responsibility for safety weighs heavier.

(*) in September 2022. CDC reported 3,115 deaths for the week of Dec. 17, 2022.