Tango festivals, milongas, and classes are being canceled left and right because of the novel coronavirus outbreak. And with the World Health Organization now declaring the outbreak a global pandemic, we’ll probably see most, if not all, tango events canceled.
One of the latest casualties is the Southern California Tango Championship & Festival, which was set to begin Friday. Organized by Yuliana Basmajyan, she has set up a fundraiser to recoup some of the unrecoverable $30,000 in expenses. Festival ticket holders can save their tickets for next year or ask for a refund.
A local dancer, D.J. and friend told me attendance at Los Angeles milongas has been light in the past week. Tonight’s Tango Experience hosted by Ilona Glinarsky in El Segundo and tomorrow night’s pre-festival event Milonga Corazón, hosted by Maria Elena are also canceled.
Bay Area organizers have canceled some milongas and classes, while others are still open, at least for now.
Health organizations and government leaders have issued warnings to the public against attending large events where the possibility of spreading the virus is higher. However, many dancers, including myself, have continued to attend milongas the past few weeks,
My thought at first was as long as I and those around me are healthy and not in the high-risk category, it’s okay to continue my regular dance activities.
But after reading about the risks to the elderly and to those who have other health issues, and a letter from Matt Brockwell, a Bay Area tango dancer, and musician who is also an M.D., I’ve changed my mind. Dancing tango involves close contact and is a prime activity during which the coronavirus, or COVID-19, can be easily passed on.
We’re very deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and the alarming levels of inaction–WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Brockwell wrote the letter to organizers about why he and his bandmates canceled their appearance at a local milonga. After reading his letter, I decided not to attend further dance events until health and government officials have given the all-clear. Following is Brockwell’s letter:
Letter from Matt Brockwell, Tango Dancer/M.D.
After pretty extensive discussion with the whole group … we’ve decided, with some sadness, that we cannot play at the … milonga this coming Saturday.
We are, of course, sorry to disappoint, but our factors for deciding this include my sense of appropriate public health-caution at the beginning of what appears to be an emerging epidemic.
My training as a doctor and my understanding of epidemiology both lead me to conclude that risk mitigation is of utmost importance especially at the beginning of an epidemic.
… It is likely that at a public event with 40+ people would result in at least one new infection in a public that probably now has a significant number of asymptomatic carriers.–Matt Brockwell, Tango Dancer, M.D.
As you know, viral spread is modeled by an exponential curve, and interventions to slow down that growth are especially important at the beginning of any such curve – and as ill-fortune would have it, the scheduled date of our performance just happens to fall in what is looking to be possibly one of the most important of all moments to be pro-active from a public health point of view.
My conclusions as an M.D. with training in this field are that even WITH the gold-standard preventative measures in place which would be:
- Hand-washing with soap for everybody on entering the milonga
- Hand-washing with soap for everybody on exiting the milonga
- A bottle of Purell at every table
- No food or drink
It is likely that at a public event with 40+ people would result in at least one new infection in a public that probably now has a significant number of asymptomatic carriers.
From a public health point of view, that’s just not something that I am comfortable with, especially as our audience skews somewhat to the 60+ age group, which according to some estimates may face up to 5% mortality rate if infected.
The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.
* Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).–CDC
* Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
The issue, of course, is not just whether the event could literally cause someone to die who might not be aware of their own risk (small though that possibility is, it is a real possibility) but also, in terms of risk mitigation, best practice during the early stages of an outbreak of uncertain morbidity is to follow conservative practices in order to slow down the load on a health system that has finite resources to respond to a large scale health crisis.
In that sense, it’s also personal for me, because I have friends and colleagues who are working in emergency rooms throughout the Bay Area, and I know how hard they are going to be working in the coming weeks.
I would acutely feel as if I was letting them down, if I knowingly participated in an activity that had any likelihood at all of amplifying their already-significant workload as front-line providers.
We’ve discussed this as a group and [we] are all saddened that we can’t play. We’ve loved every opportunity that you’ve given us to play at this wonderful venue, and that has meant that this has not been an easy decision.
We hope to keep working with you in the future and we’re sorry for any inconvenience this may cause, but we can’t play this Saturday.
Best wishes and stay safe! Wash hands with soap frequently!
Speaking to my youngest son, who attends university in Northern California, also had an impact on my decision. My son told me his school was considering closing. He was freaking out a little and wondered if he should still visit me in the Bay Area next week. At that point I told him there is no need to panic, but to be mindful of those at risk. To wash his hands regularly, and not attend large events.
We wondered whether the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco, where we plan on attending an exhibit next week, would still be open. I checked a few days ago and the museum stated it would sanitize areas where large amounts of people gather more thoroughly and have hand sanitizing stations everywhere. But now, I wonder if that is enough. A friend pointed out that many museum docents and workers are in the high-risk category because of their age.
Blackouts last semester, pathogens this semester. I’m tryna graduate.Miles O.
While some believe that since COVID-19 has probably already spread throughout the world months ago and that measures taken now are too late, we might as well go on as before. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions that while an infected person is most contagious when they are the sickest, someone who is not showing symptoms can still possibly pass on the virus.
So if a person is infected and not yet showing symptoms, they can perhaps unknowingly pass on the virus to those not yet exposed to it, and those people, in turn, can pass it on. Why take the risk of infecting friends, family, colleagues, and the public at large?
Note: I’m trying to keep the tango calendars updated with cancelations, but not all go through. Be sure to contact organizers before attending an event to make sure it’s still open.