When Lynne Feldman heard the news Ontario strip clubs were closing again amid the coronavirus pandemic, she says she was devastated by the news.
Feldman has worked as a bartender for 22 years. Most of that time has been spent at The Airport Strip Club in Mississauga.
“We were just starting to get back on track and now it feels like we are being discriminated against,” she said.
After being shut down for months in the spring and summer, the club was just starting to figure out a new way of doing business. Those who work at the club said they were doing everything they could to follow the rules, and remain open like any other bar and restaurant.
Mona, who withheld her last name, said she has been a dancer for eight years working at clubs in the Greater Toronto Area and across Canada. She said the decision to shut down clubs in Ontario once again is an unfair attack on the industry.
“I’ve been to restaurants that haven’t been operating under the same guidelines as some of the clubs that I’ve been in, and that’s heartbreaking,” Mona said.
“We are told we have to do all these things and we are doing them. We are doing them to the extent that we are mandated to and we are doing our best to keep people safe.”
The provincial decision to shut down strip clubs on Friday was made, officials said, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.,
In a statement to Global News, Ontario’s Ministry of Health said “outbreak clusters in restaurants, bars, and other food and drink establishments, including strip clubs, are a source of COVID-19 transmission.”
“Recent public health measures introduced by our government are designed to address the rapid increase in community transmission in order to keep schools, post-secondary institutions, and businesses open, and to protect vulnerable populations,” a Ministry of Health spokesperson said.
Mauro, who withheld his last name, is the owner of The Airport Strip Club. He said, in his opinion, the directive does not make sense.
“We follow the same rules and regulations as every bar in the province of Ontario and we are under the same rules and guidelines,” Mauro told Global News.
Mauro explained he took several precautions to keep patrons and staff safe at The Airport Strip Club.
He said people are screened when they enter and a staff member takes their temperature. There are directional arrows on the floor so people enter and exit in a controlled way. Customers are physically distanced both from each other and the dancers. Masks are mandatory and there are additional partitions to separate booths as well as new and plexiglass barriers for private dances.
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When The Airport Strip Club was open, the owner said only 50 people could be inside at any given time. The breakdown included 35 customers, 10 dancers, and five staff.
But several infectious disease experts said the primary issues with strip clubs, is that it can be difficult to do thorough and accurate contact tracing.
While people are required to give a name at the door, some customers are not always honest about their identity.
When outbreaks happened at strip clubs in August and September, officials say it was not easy to get in touch with every person who could have been exposed to COVID-19.
“People are much more likely to contact trace or at least put their information down at a restaurant to contact trace as opposed to a strip club,” Dr Zain Chagla, an infectious disease expert explained.
Ontario’s Ministry of Health confirms the same issue.
“Outbreaks in strip clubs have posed challenges as contact tracing logs are often incomplete,” a spokesperson said.
But employees in the adult entertainment industry said even though that may be true, a full shut down of their establishments goes too far.
“It’s just not right that we have to pay the price that they gave us the wrong information. We are doing everything we are supposed to,” Feldman said.
Some employees suggested there are other options provincial authorities could impose that would help strengthen contact tracing requirements and keep strip clubs open.
“If they are so worried that we are going to have a spread of COVID-19 because people don’t want to give their ID or they are falsifying their information, then make it mandatory that they have to provide the proper identification at the door,” Mauro said.
Some doctors said, hypothetically, if those measures are in place the exposure risk at a strip club or a restaurant is not all that different.
“Biologically if people are following two-meter limits in one establishment to another, people are screening for symptoms when they are coming in, the risks are relatively similar,” Chagla said.
Dancers who spoke to Global News said they hope that officials can come to that realization and that their places of employment will open again soon.
“We just want to work and be treated fairly,” Mona said.