At least 61 people with COVID-19 have been connected to an outbreak at Hamilton spin studio, SPINCO.
Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, the city’s medical officer of health, told media on Tuesday there were 44 primary cases, most of which were patrons, linked to the downtown spin studio.
Seventeen secondary “household spread” cases, such as friends, family or other contacts, which would have happened outside of the James Street North location, have also been identified.
And the city’s worst current outbreak of the virus could see more cases.
“We haven’t kept an exact count on how many of those [secondary cases] have had contacts. In general, we’re up to having people having 20 to 25 contacts per case that we investigate … we haven’t specifically tracked contacts for this outbreak and don’t do that generally,” Richardson said.
Public health previously said approximately 100 people had been identified as primary contacts who may have been exposed.
“We have currently confirmed exposure dates of Sept. 28 to Oct. 4. However, this can change if further cases are identified,” said public health spokesperson Jacqueline Durlov in an email to CBC News on Tuesday.
Hamilton Public Health Services isn’t calling it a “super spreader” event, but Richardson described it as a large outbreak with lots of transmission.
“It’s concerning in that it has extended beyond the initial cases who are related to the classes, but gone into their household contacts and other contacts, so it’s a very large outbreak,” she said.
Public health is still trying to piece together how it all unfolded, noting that SPINCO was following proper pandemic protocol and has been helpful throughout the entire process.
“Gyms are a higher risk place because of the fact generally people are taking off their masks, breathing at a higher rate and more deeply, and especially in classes where there’s coaching going on, that tends to be a louder tone to speak over music,” Richardson explained.
In response to an interview request Monday, the owners of Hamilton’s SPINCO location sent CBC News an email saying they were “devastated by the impact this virus is having on our community and wish all those affected a quick and full recovery.”
Information on the SPINCO website details steps the company outlined to keep riders safe, including a six-foot radius around each bike, screening questions for customers and extra cleaning and sanitation.
It states masks must be worn indoors by everyone and cannot be removed until all riders are clipped into their bikes. Face coverings must be put back on before riders get off the bikes.
“We care deeply about our community and will continue to follow the guidance of our public health authority,” the email from SPINCO read.
Richardson also said there has been an extensive review of how SPINCO operated. While she didn’t discuss if the patrons at the spin studio were following public health protocol, Richardson now recommends people try to exercise with masks on if possible.
She also recommends avoiding loud coaching and loud music that may force people to yell, which may help the virus spread.
As for other tips, Richardson and public health have been speaking to the province about what more can be done.
Asked Tuesday about the spread related to SPINCO, Premier Doug Ford referenced a “disturbing” factor that’s led to a rise in COVID-19 numbers across the province — the high number of contacts connected to each case.
“When we do contact tracing, for each person, we now see upwards of 50 to 100 contacts and then you start compounding that and multiplying it … next thing you know you’re in the thousands because those 100 people they contacted … and it gets into the tens of thousands actually,” he explained.
“That’s one of the reasons we saw an escalation”
The premier said closing fitness facilities, especially small, independently owned gyms, bothers him, but maintained he’d follow the direction of public health officials, including those in Hamilton.
“Anywhere where there’s a group of people and they’re working out, they were telling me, that’s the reason they were closing down Peel, Ottawa and Toronto, just to make sure we can get our hands around the spike,” he said.
Richardson has the power to close down local gyms and fitness centres, but said public health is taking time to review the outbreak carefully before forcing businesses to close.
“If we saw something that extended beyond this one particular instance we would definitely move to do something more quickly, but right now … saying make sure you’re wearing a mask, make sure you’re distancing, turn that music down, don’t be yelling …while we look at this and see what more could be done.”
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