Circus Smirkus

A Copley Hospital COVID-19 testing event on Sunday was a real circus.

The hospital sent 10 staff members to the hills of Greensboro, to the colorfully tented site of Circus Smirkus’ summer camp, and tested all of the Smirkos.

Dr. Don Dupuis, the head of Copley’s general surgery program, said the medical team tested about 100 budding and veteran circus performers.

It was a real feat of agility, though not of the circus variety.

“We didn’t feel it was right to have a summer without Circus Smirkus,” Dupuis said. “We’ve never taken the testing show on the road, although we’ve all done it before, but here (at the hospital).”

The circus has been operating on a 38-acre parcel of land at 1 Circus Lane in Greensboro since 1987. That’s when Rob Mermin, a veteran circus performer — he studied mime with Marcel Marceau — founded it.

Circus Smirkus’s marquee Big Top Tour bills itself as the only traveling youth circus in the country, with a caravan that requires 23 support vehicles and plays to 42,000 people each year. Not this year, though.

Another principal program is the Circus Smirkus Camp, which teaches people of all ages how to clown around, juggle, ride unicycles and walk on stilts, and perform on trapeze or delicate aerial silks. It’s something of a training ground for the Big Top.

The roughly 60 camp-goers and another 40 or so circus coaches, camp counselors and the like are living in a veritable bubble in Greensboro.

Jennifer Carlo, the circus director — head Smirko, if you will — said kids have been grouped in small “pods,” and circus equipment is continuously sanitized. The kids aren’t idle, though, not in a place as famously animated as Circus Smirkus; they have plenty of things they can practice in their limited environments.

Sunday was day 7 of quarantine — out-of-state campers also self-quarantined before going to Greensboro — so it was time for the COVID tests. Carlo said that, with all of the vigilance, everyone is “expecting and praying” they all test negative.

Carlo said she and staff are taking pandemic safety rules seriously and the list of non-Smirkos allowed access to the camp is short.

“We’re under quarantine and can’t allow any non-medical personnel on site, but we can send you some pictures if you’d like,” Carlo said in an email Friday.

Anyone who tests negative can “intermix” with campers from other pods.

The typical three-week camp has been extended to five weeks this year so the campers can undergo the requisite quarantine period. In a normal year, the training culminates in a complete show for friends and family.

This not being a normal year, the show will be livestreamed, to a potentially much larger audience.

Copley staff members administer the PCR (polymerise chain reaction) test, the one that most people have seen, the long nasal swabs. The antigen tests will likely be sent directly to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, according to Dupuis.

What’s the test like? Said Dupuis, “It’s somewhere in that awful world between a tickle and pain.”

That doesn’t sound too bad for a troupe of performers who put their bodies through all kinds of tough training so they can get a laugh or cheer out of an audience.

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