Strip club at the centre of outbreak
Their bodies were billed as "to die for". Now 550 Canadian punters will put that notion to the test.
A Toronto strip club has been exposed as the root cause of a massive new COVID-19 cluster.
Tassels, garters and G-strings aside, punters at the Brass Rail Tavern strip club in Toronto have been left more exposed than desired.
Billed as a venue for "totally nude European-style female dancers" and "interactive dancing", the race is on to uncover who was at the club when an infected staff member was working.
"You know how long it's going to take them to chase down 550 guys, half of which probably gave fake ID or information," Andrew Morris, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Toronto, told the Associated Press.
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The Brass rail had been reopened just a few days before one of its staff tested positive. Ontario state authorities say staff subsequently attended the venue for an inspection.
A quick look revealed the club's records lacked transparency and laid-bare the establishment's physical distancing compliance.
"I know it sounds ironic talking about that - you have to," Ontario Premier Doug Ford told media. "It's like any other business."
Under pandemic conditions, all staff were required to wear face masks, maintain safe distances - and use plexiglass shields where this was not possible. Brass Rail patrons had filled out the club's contact tracing log as required. Those few that proved valid were immediately contacted and told to self-isolate and get tested.
That's left a challenge for health authorities desperate to get a handle on the outbreak.
Who were all the "Johns" left unaccounted for?
"We're going to show how contact tracing works," the Premier told a daily press briefing.
"I feel sorry for people when they go to their house and tell them that they were at the Brass Rail," the Premier observed. "That's who I feel sorry for. Sorry for the spouse, seriously. Man, I wouldn't want to be on the end of that one."
While there are no accusations of a cover-up, health officials have refused to expose what role the infected employee performed. Although staff have said it was a waitress and not a stripper that tested positive.
What has been officially revealed is that the employee worked four late shifts in early August.
Sex-worker advocate and performer Andrea Werhun told Canadian news service that venues such as the Brass Rail tended to push boundaries, making servers and performers more vulnerable.
"There's a little more contact at a strip club than at a regular bar," she said. "Even though everyone is expected to play it quite safe and to wear masks the entire time, these things happen."
Toronto's Public Health agency was critical of the Brass Rail's performance.
"They were not following the regulation for example, physical distancing between tables, physical distancing between the staff and some of the customers contact logs would be another one," Dr Vinita Dubey told CTV News Toronto. "We have issued them a notice of noncompliance."
But the Brass Rail has been let off the hook for the inaccurate nature of its contact logs.
"It's up to customers to leave their names and a correct number," Dr Dubey said.
The Brass Rail has nailed its colours to the front door: "During this time, we are continuing operations while upholding the highest possible hygiene standards with our staff," a note on its street frontage reads. "This is our main priority while we provide our guests with the hospitality and customer service that they have become accustomed to."
The club remained open at the weekend.
Despite bordering the United States, Canada appears to have the pandemic somewhat under control. Over the past several weeks, its national daily case counts have generally ranged between 350 to 500 new cases.
The city of Toronto today reported five new COVID-19 cases for a total of 15,590 since the pandemic began.
Toronto's city council says the Brass Rail has lifted its act and is co-operating with measures aimed at ensuring masks are worn and appropriate distances maintained.
"It's important to remember that this is a strip club," Werhun told CBC. "But it wasn't a dancer that got infected. It was a waitress. It could have been a waitress at any bar. It just happened to be a strip club."
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel
Originally published as Strip club at the centre of outbreak