[DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a doctor or a health expert. This article is purely my opinion and speculation based on what I know right now, which could change rapidly. Do not base any of your short or long-term actions on any of my speculation and go by what the CDC recommends. I have no affiliation with any news organizations or other organizations cited in this article.]
The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic (otherwise known as SARS-COV-2 or novel coronavirus, commonly known as just coronavirus for short) burned through the world in March and April of 2020 leaving hundreds of thousands dead, ravaged economies, record unemployment, and overwhelmed medical systems in its wake, and continues to do so at the time of this writing on April 17th, 2020. State-wide lockdowns and social-distancing measures have completely upended our way of life as we know it, forcing all but the most essential workers inside and away from each other for the time being. These measures, while critical for public health, have had the obvious but painful side effect of all but eliminating social dancing (the polar opposite of social distancing) for the foreseeable future. I haven’t written much for this blog lately, because, frankly, there hasn’t been much to write about. All congresses and social dance events are cancelled for quite some time.
There has been a lot of speculation on social media as to what social dancing is going to look like moving forward. I figured I would offer up my thorough, rational perspective as one blogger who admittedly is not a scientist, doctor, or health professional, both to avoid typing the same Facebook post ad nauseum and to have some content for this blog for probably the only time for a while.
What We Know Now: A Broad View
This information is current as of 4/17/2020. The COVID-19 pandemic is a constantly developing situation and there could literally be a new development tomorrow that changes everything.
COVID-19, a respiratory virus, is known to spread through close person-to-person contact (6 feet apart or less), via micro-droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or even talks loudly. COVID-19 is also known to spread via touching an infected surface, including the hands of an infected person, and then touching your face, eyes, nose, or mouth.
There have been known cases of pre-symptomatic and even asymptomatic spread of COVID-19.
Stay-at-home orders, mass quarantine, and social distancing (staying 6 feet apart or more from other people) have to date been the main measures taken to slow the spread of the virus and avoid overburdening hospitals and healthcare systems with a massive influx of cases.
The CDC has begun recommending the use of non-medical-grade face masks or other alternative face coverings in public when social distancing is not possible. These recommendations are not a replacement for social distancing at this time.
According to data from the University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, a very influential model relied upon by the White House and many individual American citizens, we appear to be hitting the peak of the first wave of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations and will slowly ramp down to zero deaths/hospitalizations per day between late May (as early as then in some states) and late June (the entire country/some states have longer tail ends of the graph). The lockdowns and social distancing measures appear to have been effective in reducing the spread of the virus and keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed by a flood of new cases, but we are far from out of the woods as of now.
If the current COVID-19 pandemic follows a similar pattern to the 1918-1919 “Spanish Flu” pandemic and other similar coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS, we may see a reduction of cases when the weather gets warm and therefore at least a temporary reprieve from some of the strictest quarantine and social distancing measures. There is already evidence from new government tests that sunlight and high heat and humidity accelerates the death of the virus. Scientists are warning that this data is inconclusive as of now, and that even in best cases high heat and humidity won’t completely stop transmission of the virus. Even if it becomes conclusive and becomes the basis for a reprieve from the strictest lockdown measures, a complete return to normalcy including large social dance events during such a reprieve is unlikely.
The combination of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, a common antibiotic, is a pharmaceutical combo heavily touted by President Trump as a therapeutic and prophylactic for COVID-19. So far, this combination appears to have, at best, dubious anecdotal evidence of improvement in non-severe cases, and, at worst, crippling side effects that outweigh the positives of use.
An experimental drug called remdesivir is currently in phase three clinical trials as a therapeutic for severe cases of COVID-19 and is showing a lot of promise.
There are at least two candidates for a COVID-19 vaccine currently in phase one clinical trials. If all goes well, one very promising candidate is targeted for health care workers and other emergency personnel and essential workers in Fall 2020, and for the general public in Spring 2021. These dates are of course fluid and are contingent on the vaccine being proven safe and effective without any serious issues or side effects. The general consensus among scientists, including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director and White House Coronavirus Task Force advisor Anthony Fauci, is that it will take 12-18 months for a vaccine to be available to the general population if all goes well.
President Trump is hoping to begin opening the United States again in three phases starting in early May 2020. Whether this plan is executed statewide is up to the governors of each individual state.
The United States lags behind other countries such as South Korea in both testing and contact tracing. Apple and Google are working on contract tracing solutions using cellular phone data. Reliable testing and contact tracing will be critical to a safe and effective reopening of the country.
There are currently experimental tests for antibodies to the virus underway that may be able to determine who has already had the virus and has built up antibodies to the virus making them immune. This testing is inconclusive at this time, but could be a game changer. If immunity in certain parts of the population can be proven, we may be able to issue immunity cards for those who are immune, allowing them to work and go about life without having to quarantine themselves, effectively instituting more targeted quarantines and social distancing instead of blanket quarantines and social distancing for everyone.
The Bad News: Social Dance As We Knew It Probably Isn’t Coming Back For A Long Time
The sooner we accept this reality, the better for all of our sanity.
Yes, I miss social dance. We all do. But large social dance events are the polar opposite of what needs to be done to stop the spread of the virus for the time being. Social dance is done in close contact with many people in one night, less than 6 feet apart and touching hands continuously. Without reliable testing or contact tracing to identify and isolate known positive cases of the virus, large social dance events are too powerful a vector for unchecked community spread of the virus to even contemplate risking at this time.
This is particularly true of dance congresses and festivals, the largest scale of social dance events there is.
While I understand the desire of dance congress organizers to not owe $250,000+ to a hotel, the reality is that dance congresses tend to be petri dishes of illness in normal times, and a currently-incurable pandemic of a novel virus would not only spread like wildfire at the event, but then would spread widely in the communities of traveling attendees upon their return. I can’t tell anyone what to do, but all I can say is that if someone insists on holding a dance congress in 2020 and you insist on going, I would highly, highly advise a two-and-a-half-week strict self-quarantine afterwards (meaning don’t leave your house for ANY reason including and especially the grocery store).
Very likely, we shouldn’t expect social dancing to return as anything approaching normal until, at the earliest, the summer of 2021, likely not until the fall of 2021 — and that’s if all goes according to plan and schedule in the search for a vaccine. Even then, it will be a new normal; lots of people will be hesitant to return to social dance for quite some time. Face masks, other face coverings, and gloves will be common social dance accessories for quite a while once social dance returns, just to name one example. We may also see mandatory breaks for hand washing/sanitizing every few songs rather than a long blending of songs for several hours straight. Social dance isn’t returning for quite a long time and will not be the same again once it does.
So How Do We Cope In The Meantime?
Virtual Dance Classes
Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been an explosion of online virtual classes for every style of dance including all styles of salsa and bachata, zouk, west coast swing, and others. This is a trend that will continue throughout the next year at least. While not a great substitute for in-person dance classes and instruction, these virtual classes at least have the positive effect of helping individual dancers keep their technique sharp pending the return of social dance and in-person dance instruction and guiding dance-monagamous couples (see below) in their dance training.
Feel free to post any links to virtual dance classes you recommend in the comments.
If this goes on long enough, we may see a rise in couples that agree to only dance with each other until all is clear or even moving in together to do so, as dance couples already established prior to the rise of the virus are already doing. These “dance-monogamous situationships” likely will end quickly when the virus ends, as wanting someone to dance with is a very superficial foundation for a relationship (especially a live-in relationship), but it may help some people cope with not only the lack of social dance but also extended isolation for the time being.
As an alternative, we may see a rise of group houses where groups of dancers shack up together and only dance with each other. Whether these arrangements will become prevalent and stand the test of time remains to be seen, but this practice is already playing out outside the dance community and it could become a more palatable alternative to dance monogamy for the commitment-phobic dancer who wants to avoid dance-starvation and extended isolation in quarantine.
Once we have reliable testing and contact tracing in place, the first returning manifestation of anything resembling social dancing we will see, and probably the dominant manifestation for the foreseeable future, will be private invite-only social dance house parties. These small invite-only parties of 10-14 people or less will come with mandatory temperature checks, use of protective equipment such as face masks and gloves, handwashing and sanitizing breaks, and, if immunity cards become a widespread phenomenon, immunity cards as a prerequisite for even being invited. While private house parties do not quite match the experience of large socials or congresses, they do have an intimate charm to them, and they will be the closest thing to a real dance social that we will see for quite some time yet.
Of course, most dancers do have other hobbies, and this would be a good time to more deeply explore or cultivate other hobbies that are more in line with social distancing guidelines. Hiking, running, cooking, fishing, gardening, video games… just to name a few examples. Now may also be a good time to enter an intense immersive accelerated learning program for education or new job skills, such as a computer programming bootcamp or other type of accelerated job training. After all, what else are you doing for the foreseeable future?
Of course, this all could change. We may come up with an effective therapeutic/prophylactic that changes the game entirely and allows us to get back to normal faster. I don’t have a crystal ball. I’m just offering my perspective based on the information I have now. Like everyone else, I will be following this entire situation closely.