A COVID-19 outbreak has been declared at Capella Dance Academy in Chilliwack. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)

A COVID-19 outbreak has been declared at Capella Dance Academy in Chilliwack. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)

COVID-19 ‘superspreader’ event at Chilliwack dance academy now up to 36 cases

Dance school owner says she did everything she was told to do by Fraser Health after positive test

Thirty-six people have now tested positive in connection with a Chilliwack dance studio, including the owner, two other instructors and 33 students.

The owner said that she is isolated from her family, trying to get over the illness, and she only ever did what health officials told her to do.

A week after Sarah Wood tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 26 and voluntarily shut down Capella Dance Academy, Fraser Health declared a COVID-19 outbreak.

On Nov. 2, the health authority said 26 people at the studio in the industrial area off Yale Road West had tested positive, a number that rose to 36 by Nov. 3.

People who contracted COVID-19, along with their close contacts, were told to self-isolate.

In an incident that Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin of Fraser Health agreed Tuesday was a “superspreader event”, there has been considerable confusion about how and when notifications were made.

“We are also working with the Chilliwack and Fraser-Cascade school districts to ensure they are informed of any potential exposure and are working together to ensure the safety of staff and students,” Fraser Health said in a press release.

Last week, letters were sent to families involved with the academy informing them of a COVID-19 case at the site.

RELATED: COVID-19 exposure event at Chilliwack’s Capella Dance Academy

RELATED: COVID-19 exposures in at least a dozen Chilliwack schools

Wood confirmed that she has the virus, and Fraser Health first said in a letter to affected parents that potential exposure might have occurred on Oct. 21 and 22. That was later updated on Nov. 2 to say those affected were spread over the dates of Oct. 20 to 27.

In one of two letters to parents, Wood urged those who weren’t feeling well to get tested. She also said she would be closing her studio even though Fraser Health never ordered it closed.

Parents with children at the studio expressed surprise because, they said, the academy had stricter COVID-19 protocols than public schools, including masks in common spaces, no adults in the dance studios, physical distancing, and staggered class times.

In its release announcing the outbreak, Fraser Health said it “will inspect the site and we are continuing to work with the dance academy to strengthen their COVID-19 mitigation strategies.”

In a lengthy media statement sent out Nov. 3, Wood responded to suggestions that information was not forthcoming about the outbreak, stating that she was “simply doing what I was told by the powers that be.”

She gave a timeline of the events since her positive test on Oct. 26, after which she emailed the entire studio roster on Oct. 27 and closed the doors “still at this time receiving zero direction from Fraser Health.”

It wasn’t until Oct. 29, when she said contact tracers told her when she would have been contagious, information she should share with families directly affected.

“Thinking that wasn’t enough action I chose to send it to the entire studio,” she said. “At this point, a great deal of dancers chose to be tested. I’m glad they did as some with no symptoms at all tested positive…. I was contacted by Fraser Health and they are quite overwhelmed with the growing numbers in B.C.”

Wood said she did as she was ordered to do by Fraser Health, including sending an email to dancers to isolate for 14 days from the last day in the studio as a precaution. The health authority confirmed the studio closure was voluntary.

“I do not have any control on how fast Fraser Health is working. I have co-operated 110 per cent since the beginning to get this ball rolling. I do not have any control over how fast the school district is contacted. Fraser Health is in charge of all contact tracing.”

She added that obviously the virus did not start in her studio, and she has been as open and transparent as possible.

“The facts are that it’s in our community and regardless of all of the sanitizing, social distancing, masks in common areas it still made its way through our doors. I am not careless with my dancers or their families.”

RELATED: List of Chilliwack youth groups closing due to COVID-19 growing quickly

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