Just when you thought it was safe to go to the theater in the waning days of the pandemic, the virus takes a curtain call.
The final performance of Western Albemarle High School’s spring musical was canceled after several students at the school tested positive for COVID-19.
As of Monday morning, 21 students in the show’s cast and crew were isolating at home because of a positive COVID test.
The school’s iteration of Broadway ABBA-fest “Mamma Mia!” premiered Thursday and the school learned of one positive test on Friday, according to an email sent to families. On Saturday, another three reports of positive tests came in.
Sunday’s matinee, which was supposed to be a sing-along for the jukebox musical set to tunes from the 70s Swedish pop music megagroup ABBA, was then called off. The school is working to refund those who purchased tickets.
School drama programs have worked throughout the pandemic to find safe ways to stage performances, including moving performances outdoors. They’ve worked around COVID precautions that didn’t allow props to be shared among cast members.
Western Albemarle was the first county school to hold its spring musical since the state ended mask requirements for students. They are not alone, however. Albemarle High School students are set to perform “Tuck Everlasting” next month while Monticello High School students are going to stage “Urinetown.”
Division spokesman Phil Giaramita said no changes are in the works for those two musicals, but that they’ll likely learn from what happened at Western Albemarle.
Giaramita also noted that “Mamma Mia!” involved a fairly large cast of students.
Since returning from spring break, the school division has seen an increase in positive cases among students and staff members. Last week, 50 cases were reported, up from 47 the preview week. The division averaged 25 new reported cases a week in March.
“These cases remind us that although overall in our county, COVID cases were declining, they now are beginning to increase and the pandemic itself remains a public health risk,” WAHS principal Jennifer Sublette wrote in an email. “We should continue to closely monitor our health and that of our families for any COVID-19 symptoms including.”
After the school received reports of the positive tests, school custodians conducted a deep cleaning and disinfection of all areas where students were present, according to the email.
Face masks also were made available to any student as an additional precaution.
“Our teachers and counselors are communicating with all students who are at home to ensure that their instructional needs are being met virtually,” Sublette wrote. “We know that we are moving into an important time of the year in terms of testing and classwork.”
School counselors are working with affected students to reschedule AP exams as needed, officials wrote in the email.
Albemarle County is considered to be at medium risk for COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s community levels. The levels are determined by looking at new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period, new hospital admissions and the percent of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.
The school division has relaxed several measures that were put in place over the last two years, such as contact tracing for individual cases, which were aimed at slowing or stopping the virus’s spread in school buildings.
Giaramita said that despite the changes in mitigation measures, COVID is still around, and he urged vigilance.
“The pandemic has a way of reminding us that you don’t want to declare victory too early,” he said.
As of April 1, the division has limited contact tracing efforts to situations involving an outbreak or sustained transmission from person to person to person in a school or department. The division also is no longer updating the number of students who are quarantining because of a possible exposure to someone with COVID-19.
Giaramita said that so far one student is quarantining as a result of exposure to one of the 21 cases. Only unvaccinated students in Albemarle County are required to quarantine.