Yesterday, we promised we would evolve with the coronavirus situation, and it didn't take long for us to have to do so.
MonTango has decided to suspend all group classes, practices and milongas starting today, Thursday, March 12. We will reassess in a week and keep everyone informed.
Some of you will rejoice, some will say we are jumping the gun. While even we feel this decision may be premature, we prefer to err on the side of caution.
The factors that led us to this decision, quite different from the one we announced yesterday, include:
The almost 50% increase in cases in the province of Quebec since yesterday, from 9 to 13 overnight.
The cancellation of our local St. Patrick's Day Parade, not to mention the cancelled sporting events and concerts all over North America.
The emergency measures announced today by Quebec Premier François Legault including ordering that all travellers and sick people quarantine themselves for two weeks and that events involving more than 250 people be cancelled.
The fact Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in self-quarantine, because his wife came home unwell from a trip abroad. (We do not yet know if either of them have COVID-19.)
The cancellation yesterday of all milongas in Buenos Aires for two weeks. That city has a comparable number of COVID-19 cases to ours.
The decision by one of the few other full-time tango schools in Montreal to cancel their events for two weeks. (We have been in discussion since yesterday and definitely feel we should be united in this decision.)
We will reassess the situation on a week-to-week basis and keep our students and members informed as to start dates for the spring session and the restarting of weekend activities.
This was an extremely difficult decision to make, but we feel it is the right one.
Once again, stay healthy, everyone.
Tango in the time of coronavirus
Today, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization officially classified the novel coronavirus COVID-19 a global pandemic.
The tango community (indeed any social dance community) is a perfect potential breeding ground for such a contagious virus. Tango dancers spend an awful lot of time wrapped in the arms of person after person, holding hands, rubbing cheeks and exchanging sweat and probably even saliva particles. Not to mention all those surfaces in the milongas that have been touched by so many, from doorknobs to table tops, chairs and faucets.
Everyone is talking about this virus and many are asking us what we as organizers are doing about it. I am not the first tango organizer to publish my thoughts and recommendations on the outbreak, but as a teacher and milonga organizer who facilitates large gatherings of people with lots of physical contact, I feel it is my duty to speak out and share both what I know, what I recommend and what measures my partner and I as studio owners will take to protect people.
First: What does it mean that COVID-19 is now considered a pandemic? Epidemic refers to a sudden increase in the number of cases of a disease that is actively spreading, affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population.
Pandemic refers to the geographic spread of a disease. A pandemic is an epidemic that has crossed borders, spreading over several countries or continents, also usually affecting an especially large number of people.
Here are the WHO's recommendations for slowing the spread of the disease (stopping it is no longer deemed possible):
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or, if not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
If you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth with a disposable tissue. If not available, use your elbow.
Avoid contact with anyone displaying symptoms of fever or cough.
Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care, but call before you head to a clinic or emergency room. (The number to call in Quebec is Info-Santé at 8-1-1.)
In the context of the tango community, those recommendations would translate to:
Wash or sanitize your hands thoroughly before and after every lesson and every tanda.
If you are experiencing any cold or flu symptoms, don't take a chance with other people's health: Stay home.
If you recently travelled to such highly affected areas as China, Iran, Italy or South Korea, stay away from classes and milongas for two full weeks.
What we at MonTango as milonga organizers will do:
Provide soap and hand sanitizer. This is not new! We have always kept our bathrooms clean and provided hand soap as well as sanitizer. (Several people have written to ask if I have "considered" providing hand sanitizer, but for years we have kept a bottle of it right next to our water station. We will probably add a couple more bottles now, such as at the welcome table and around the dance floor.)
We ask you, our dancers, to stay home if you are sick and we will do the same. This may eventually mean cancelled lessons or classes taught by one rather than two instructors, but lowering all risk of transmission must, of course, be our priority.
Cancel events if it becomes necessary. Here in Quebec, as of today there are only 8 known cases of COVID-19 and as far as we know there have been no cases of it in our tango milieu. At this time we do not feel it is necessary to cancel our classes or milongas, but if official recommendations to the contrary come out, of if we suddenly feel it would be the right course of action, we will absolutely do so.
Luckily for us we are living a very different reality from many dancers in Europe, Asia and even the United States. The virus has not yet hit our tango community and in fact has barely touched our city.
Today, we are counting ourselves lucky and, again, my partner and I don't yet feel that drastic measures are necessary. But with this virus, things could change by next week … or perhaps even tomorrow. We will keep ourselves up to date and as the official recommendations change, so will our response. If schools and public gatherings are closed, our milonga will close as well.
This is a scary time for businesses like ours. With expensive rent to pay every month, a few weeks without tango activities could have dire consequences for us and the other schools like ours. But the community's health comes first, of course.
It is hard to know what to do and whom to believe with so much different information out there and so many sharing their opinions and advice. Paranoia, fear-mongering and conspiracy theories abound, distract and annoy the heck out of me, but this disease is a very real threat and we assure you that we are taking it seriously.
I wish you all good health and will keep you posted as things change.
Other tango professionals I have read on the topic include Carol Horowitz, a fellow Montreal tango school owner whose very sensible recommendations you can read here and Alex Apetrei, a dancer from Zurich, Switzerland, who published a call to stop all milongas globally (while well-researched, I considered his recommendation somewhat alarmist, though I admittedly have a different perspective over on this side of the pond).