Letters to the Editor • Opinion
The coronavirus pandemic is not over
Letters to the Editor • Opinion
We already know how to prevent pandemics
The downtown skyline in New Orleans. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

With no dance floor and strict, new coronavirus guidelines, attendees of the 2020 Naughty N’awlins swingers convention swayed in place at their tables and flirted behind masks from a distance.

After being tested for the coronavirus and agreeing to wear masks, about 250 people checked into a New Orleans hotel for the swingers convention on Nov. 14 to reconnect a community separated by the pandemic.

A little more than two weeks later, 41 attendees have tested positive for the virus, according to the event’s organizer, in an outbreak that led local officials to call the convention a “superspreader event.”

A spokesman for New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D) said the event was a “very stark example of what can happen when you don’t obey the social distance guidelines.”

Superspreader events are the leading cause of coronavirus transmission in the U.S. Here’s what they entail, and why they are so dangerous. (Video: The Washington Post)

NOLA.com first reported the outbreak on Tuesday after event organizer Bob Hannaford recently published a blog post detailing the safety failures that led to the outbreak.

“I wouldn’t do it again if I knew then what I know now,” Hannaford said in the post. “It weighs on me and it will continue to weigh on me until everyone is 100% better.”

The city did not require a permit for the annual swingers convention, which was a little more than a tenth of its usual size this year because of the pandemic. The event’s organizers said they met with city officials before the convention to discuss safety measures to avoid spreading the virus among attendees.

Catch up on the biggest developments in the pandemic at the end of the day with our free coronavirus newsletter

Hannaford said in his Friday post that attendees had to either test negative for the coronavirus or prove that they had antibodies for the virus. Event organizers assumed people with coronavirus antibodies were “not contagious,” Hannaford said. Everyone else was required to have a negative coronavirus test just before the event.

Organizers also asked attendees to keep detailed diaries of everyone they had contact with for more than 10 minutes at the convention, regardless of whether that contact involved sex, Hannaford said. Groups socializing in the hotel were limited to nine or fewer individuals, and people were encouraged to wear masks unless they were eating or drinking.

Despite the restrictions, Hannaford said he noticed “a lot more eye contact and positive acknowledgment of short flirts and teases.” He said many attendees thanked him and his staff for putting on the event.

“All in all, the event seemed like a big success,” Hannaford said in his post. “We pulled off a lifestyle event with the strictest protocols and we were able to create an event that we certainly would not advertise as ‘safe,’ but it was the safest possible version we could plan.”

Then, the day after the convention ended, the text messages began, he said.

“We had our first positive case,” he said. “It was a wife who tested positive on Monday night after our event. Her husband tested negative. Both were tested prior to coming to the event.”

Five people tested positive the Monday after the convention, Hannaford said. A day later, 14 cases had been confirmed. By Wednesday, at least 29 attendees had the virus.

Even with the efforts to prevent an outbreak, the virus spread to about 1 in 6 people who showed up to the swingers event. Hannaford said most of the cases were either asymptomatic or mild, but at least one person had to be hospitalized with a severe case of covid-19.

“If I thought for one minute that he or anyone would end up in the hospital, I would certainly not have had our event,” he said.

Once a hot spot, Orleans Parish has reported more than 16,000 coronavirus cases and 648 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

“When we ask people to maintain social distance, when we ask people to obey the public health guidelines, there’s a reason for that,” a spokesman for Cantrell said at a news conference on Tuesday. “And when those guidelines are not adhered to, you see a spike in infections, you see a superspreader event.”

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Where do things stand? See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people.

The state of public health: Conservative and libertarian forces have defanged much of the nation’s public health system through legislation and litigation as the world staggers into the fourth year of covid.

Grief and the pandemic: A Washington Post reporter covered the coronavirus — and then endured the death of her mother from covid-19. She offers a window into grief and resilience.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

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