It’s been a fast-moving couple of weeks in the COVID-19 news cycle. First, the Pfizer vaccine was approved for children 12 to 15 years old. Then came the surprise announcement that fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks in many everyday settings.
But what (if anything) do these updates mean for dance studios across the country? To find out, Dance Teacher spoke to Dr. Wendy Ziecheck, a former professional dancer now known as the “bubble doctor,” due to her expertise in designing COVID-safe residencies for dance companies. Here’s how the New York City–based internist recommends studio owners respond to these sudden changes.
What does FDA approval of the vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds mean, as far as dance studios are concerned?
It’s good news. There’s really nice data coming out that proves the vaccine is just as safe in children as in adults. Since children have a more robust immune response, they’re probably even more protected than adults. That’s important because contrary to popular belief, children do get sick with COVID. Something like 20 percent of all cases in the U.S. are in children. Within that significant portion of the COVID population, some get very sick, die or end up with long-term (maybe permanent) side effects.
So if you have a dance class fully composed of vaccinated 12- to 15-year-olds and a vaccinated teacher (and two weeks have passed since everyone’s second shots!), you could, theoretically, unmask if ventilation is good.
The virus could still transmit among vaccinated dancers, right?
There’s good evidence (that hasn’t been completely published yet) that transmission from one vaccinated person to another is minimal, if at all. Until we have firm data about the transmissibility of the virus in vaccinated people, those who are unvaccinated still need to mask up.
Can dance studios let up on any restrictions as more people get vaccinated?
I would say 80 percent of the room has to be vaccinated (and your local community’s prevalence of virus has to be below 5 percent) before social distancing, masking or capacity restrictions relax. If you haven’t upgraded your studio’s ventilation system, open the windows. Once ventilation is improved, you can have more dancers on the barre, and can go across the floor. But masking while partnering is still essential.
As far as cleaning goes, we’ve learned that transmission on surfaces is negligible. While wiping down the barre is always a good idea, people don’t need to go crazy with wiping down and disinfecting everything.
Can studios ask faculty members and families for proof of vaccination?
That’s a sticky subject that opens up some privacy issues. It’s appropriate to ask dancers on a daily questionnaire, “Have you been vaccinated? When was your last dose?” Now, you can write anything you want on those questionnaires—but I would still hope studios are requiring those for entry.
A studio can make vaccination a prerequisite for participation, but some studios won’t do it because there’s too much vaccine hesitancy in their area. Keep in mind that in some states it is legal to make vaccination a condition of employment.
When might we expect the vaccine to be approved for younger children?
The next age group will be 6 months to 11 years old, but I can’t predict when that will be approved. The one thing I do want to say is that pregnant dance teachers should get vaccinated, because the fetus will then be born with immunity to coronavirus.
So what’s the bottom line for dance studios right now?
I still think everyone should remain masked indoors. There may still be unvaccinated people in the room, and though it looks like transmission from vaccinated to unvaccinated is unlikely, it’s not a 0 percent chance. In many dance schools, students aren’t old enough for a vaccine, so they remain vulnerable to each other and to any unvaccinated family members.
How One Studio Is Responding
New York City saw some of the pandemic’s toughest moments. Now, the city boasts an impressively high vaccination rate—which is why we wanted to talk to Alexandra Cook, Youth and Family Programs Director at the Mark Morris Dance Group in Brooklyn, New York.
“What the vaccine implies for us is that as caseloads go down, families will feel more confident sending their children back into the studio instead of staying online,” Cook says. “As for masks, there’s a real emotional adjustment to be made there, and so we’ll all keep wearing masks until everyone feels safe.”
MMDG does not plan to mandate vaccinations in any way, though they are supportive of faculty and students who feel comfortable getting the vaccine. Cook acknowledges that they are privileged to be in a community where there is relatively little vaccine hesitancy. “We are going to continue seeking information from our community as to their comfort level, and making decisions based on that,” she says.