Just when you thought it was safe to go to the theater in the final days of the pandemic, the virus takes an encore.
The final performance of Western Albemarle High School’s spring musical has been canceled after several students at the school tested positive for COVID-19.
As of Monday morning, 21 students from the show’s cast and crew were in isolation at home due to a positive COVID test.
The school’s iteration of the Broadway ABBA-fest “Mamma Mia!” premiered on Thursday and the school learned of a positive test on Friday, according to an email sent to families. On Saturday, three more positive test reports arrived.
The Sunday matinee, which was supposed to be a sing-along for the musical jukebox to tunes by 70s Swedish pop music megagroup ABBA, was later cancelled. The school is working to refund those who have purchased tickets.
School theater programs have been working throughout the pandemic to find safe ways to stage performances, including outdoor performances. They circumvented COVID precautions which did not allow props to be shared between actors.
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Western Albemarle was the first school in the county to hold its spring musical since the state ended mask requirements for students. They are not alone, however. Students from Albemarle High School are set to perform “Tuck Everlasting” next month while students from Monticello High School will stage “Urinetown.”
Division spokesman Phil Giaramita said no changes were in the works for either musical, but they would likely learn from what happened at Western Albemarle.
Giaramita also noted that “Mamma Mia!” involved a fairly large number of students.
Since returning from spring break, the school division has seen an increase in positive cases among students and staff. Last week, 50 cases were reported, compared to 47 in the preview week. The division averaged 25 new reported cases per week in March.
“These cases remind us that while across our county COVID cases have declined, they are now beginning to increase and the pandemic itself remains a public health risk,” the WAHS director wrote, Jennifer Sublette, in an email. “We must continue to closely monitor our health and that of our families for any symptoms of COVID-19, including.”
After the school received reports of the positive tests, school custodians carried out a thorough cleaning and disinfection of all areas where students were present, according to the email.
Face masks have also been made available to all students as an additional precaution.
“Our teachers and counselors are communicating with all students who are at home to ensure their educational needs are being met virtually,” Sublette wrote. “We know we are entering an important time of the year in terms of testing and classroom work.”
School counselors are working with affected students to reschedule AP exams as needed, officials wrote in the email.
Albemarle County is considered medium risk for COVID-19, according to community levels from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The levels are determined by looking at new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period, new hospital admissions and the percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.
The school division relaxed several measures put in place over the past two years, such as contact tracing for individual cases, that were intended to slow or stop the spread of the virus in school buildings.
Giaramita said that despite changes in mitigation measures, COVID is still here, and he called for vigilance.
“The pandemic has a way of reminding us that you don’t want to declare victory too soon,” he said.
Since April 1, the division has limited contact tracing efforts to situations involving an outbreak or sustained person-to-person transmission in a school or department. The division also no longer updates the number of students who are quarantined due to possible exposure to someone with COVID-19.
Giaramita said that so far a student has been in quarantine following exposure to one of the 21 cases. Only unvaccinated Albemarle County students are required to self-quarantine.