Clubbing in Covid 19
By Cole Petersen, Staff Writer
With Toronto’s renowned nightlife, clubbing is one of its most popular pastimes. It draws many different people with dancing, live music and a sociable environment. It also attracts local students to participate and join in the festivities. However, with the onset of the pandemic, clubs have become high-risk areas, due to concerns of widespread Covid-19 transmission.
Since the disco craze of the 1960s, clubs remain a mainstay of Toronto nightlife. According to Not Zoned for Dancing, a collaborative paper between the University of Toronto and the City of Toronto, there were 485 clubs, lounge and bar-style locations within the City of Toronto in 2013. These nightclubs are places for people to dance, relax and enjoy themselves. The Trinity Times interviewed several students involved in Toronto’s nightlife about their experiences, both prior to and since the pandemic.
To start out, when asked what they sought out within a club environment, one student, Avinash Dindial, prioritised simply, “A really good atmosphere,” going on to specify, “Some like good music and like good people.” Echoing this sentiment, “Lenny” Weber said that his friends and the music selection were what interested him, with techno, hip-hop and R&B being his preferred options for the latter.
Of course, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Toronto’s clubs (like many similar entertainment venues) experienced closures as a result of public health guidelines. Clubs closed their doors to party-goers on March 17, 2020, when Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency in the province. The high proximity environment was seen as a potential breeding ground for COVID-19 infections. Speaking to CNBC on the topic in America, Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology, would state, “It’s clear that opening up [nightclubs] in the way that they did, particularly with the night-time economy, has been a real driver to massive levels of infection.” According to public health guidelines, Toronto’s clubs remained closed until June 30, 2021, when more than seventy percent of Ontario adults had received their vaccinations, and the province entered stage two of its reopening plan as a result. This high rate of vaccination, combined with the introduction of vaccine passports, allowed for the safe reopening of restaurants and bars, while allegedly maintaining public health and safety.
This arrangement has, however, brought some changes. Speaking of the pre-Covid experience, Gabriel Naidoo, a St. Michaels student, told the Trinity Times, “There were a lot of people in the club. It was packed; it was a good atmosphere.” In contrast, Avinnash highlighted that following the reopening after shutdowns, the club experience changed due to the implementation of new restrictions, saying, “[The club staff] have us all show them our vaccination cards at the door.” Gabriel seconded this narrative, stating that the biggest change he had found was, “the wait — it just took a bit longer with all of the admin, checking everyone’s vaccine passport and masks,” as well as plenty of empty space due to reduced capacity. However, both Garbiel and Avinnash expressed a feeling that despite the additional protections, club policies did not provide adequate protection from transmission. They described their chief concern as the bizarre and apparently arbitrary enforcement of these rules, “The thing is everybody came together like dancing together in the middle and then there were just like people sitting on the outside kind of thing in the empty space that was left by the people outside”. In addition, they said that, alongside this, people were only required to wear masks off the dance floor, thereby creating an odd scenario in which patrons were not required to wear masks in the area with the greatest concentration of people — a particularly illogical public health policy.
A similar account of lackadaisical Covid-19 safety standards in clubs was given by Lenny Weber, “So far I’ve only been clubbing once [in Toronto] and to my surprise, there was no proof of vaccination required.” He also mentioned that he felt that health restrictions were not being taken seriously enough in the city. When comparing current policies to pre-COVID-19 club operations, he said “[…] I don’t see much of a difference.” This was a far cry from his experience in Germany, where he said he experienced both vaccine passport checks as well as a modified club environment. Lenny described his experiences in Germany, “The first step that Munich took when opening clubs was opening these outside patios or terraces. So that kind of thing, I’d say that made me feel a bit more comfortable because I knew, you know, it was an open space, so we weren’t confined in this closed area. So it made me enjoy the experience a bit more.” Reports like these are frightening, especially when considering the large rates of infections coming out of various festivals in the Netherlands, during one of which more than a thousand people were infected, according to a report by CNBC. One can only hope that the current policies will somehow be sufficient, along with Ontario’s relatively high rate of adult vaccinations, to keep young people safe, in the changing entertainment environment. Meanwhile, it remains a matter of personal choice to trust the rules in place to keep you safe — or not and stick to more sedentary entertainment options.