Pulsing parties in swanky South Beach mansions. Raging raves in Miami warehouses. Backyard bashes in Palm Beach manors where teenagers drink late into the night.
South Florida is a world epicenter of coronavirus infections, but some irrepressible revelers insist on trying to live out the subtropical promise of fun, sin and sun — COVID-19 or not.
Experts say the pandemic parties could cost them their life.
A review of police records, social media accounts, and interviews with professional event planners who refuse to let COVID-19 kill the music shows that South Florida’s world-famous party culture is alive and well.
- Revelers often showed up to a $6 million waterfront mansion for festivities, drawing Miami Beach code enforcers 43 times and the police 18 times. Then gunfire at a party there Sunday wounded two people, sending them to the hospital, according to a city spokesman. One man was arrested, accused of violating city code by having the party, but the shooter vanished.
- The Miami Police Department has responded to 11 “pandemic parties” in recent months, including five in June. But the organizers of one July Fourth bash say they pulled off their warehouse rager without police interference, and some 250 attended.
- A large party delighted 50 teens in Royal Palm Beach, with officers finding them drinking at a home one late night in May. The man who opened the door refused to let the cops in, so they arrested him on the charge of resisting an officer. The cops shut the party down.
- There were parties aplenty across South Florida around the Fourth of July weekend. Broward dispatchers received more than 170 calls about parties and gatherings that were too large or loud, from July 1 to July 6. The city of Miami shut down seven venues and parties over the holiday weekend for not following social-distancing ordinances.
Eric Knott, a pulmonary and ICU medicine trainee on the front lines of treating coronavirus patients, likens pandemic partying to drunken driving. “It’s like hopping into a car drunk without a seat belt and airbag, and assuming you won’t get hit,” Knott said.
Those who’ve attended such parties bring up the uncertainty of how long the pandemic will last — while there’s a need to get out. “We have no idea how long this is going to last and that seemed like a good way to let loose with the measures they were offering,” says Ashley Davis, a Miami resident who attended the July Fourth warehouse bash. The event’s organizers allayed partygoers’ concerns with a disinfection machine that experts say is ineffective.
The median age of those infected by the virus in Florida has plummeted in recent months, going from 65 at the beginning of March to 39 this Wednesday, according to the Florida Department of Health. But younger, healthier people who stand a better chance of fighting it off can still easily transmit it to older, more vulnerable members of their households.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has singled out partygoers for accelerating the spread. “We saw a rapid rise in young people … being positive to COVID-19 around mid-June,” he told CBS’ “Face The Nation.” “I think that that had a lot to do with probably socializing, young kids going to parties, maybe graduation parties at homes, because it’s been pretty locked down here for some time.”
Knott says that the intensive-care units at his hospital are getting full, and that the lack of medical resources could greatly increase the chances of death, even to young people who would normally be able to fight it off.
“Young people think they’re invincible, that the virus won’t kill them, because the mortality for them is super low,” he says. “But that’s assuming we have the resources. As soon as the numbers get high enough where we can’t give the 25-year-old oxygen, the mortality rate for that group goes up. So as soon as we’re full, that mortality rate argument goes out the window.”
The pandemic parties have taken place all across South Florida.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office responded to 13 calls about large, loud, parties or gatherings on July Fourth. Police records show officers responded to complaints about pool parties with more than 20 people, “large” parties where DJs set off fireworks, and large gatherings of 10 to 15 people setting off fireworks in the street. No one was arrested. Records for the other 157 complaints made between July 1 and July 6 were not immediately available.
On July Fourth, officers from the Fort Lauderdale Police Department responded to a noise complaint in the 1300 block of Citrus Isle. Police records show that cops found a group of 15 people gathered in the backyard. The police report notes that the house was a “Home Away vacation rental,” and that the renter of the residence was visiting from Massachusetts. Officers later returned to the scene to tell the party house to turn it down again. No arrests were made.
Broward County issued an order that took effect Friday, restricting the occupancy of vacation rental properties solely to the people who rented them. The order was passed, because the rentals are being used to host parties.
Miami Police Chief pleads with the public to wear a mask to combat coronavirus in South Florida.
Pandemic parties have also been broken up in Palm Beach County.
According to police reports, when officers first arrived at a large house in village of Royal Palm Beach on May 22 and knocked on the door, they were met by a drunken, belligerent man who claimed to be of legal age. Inside the house, the reports state, officers could see some 10 teens drinking. After backup arrived and the man who answered the door was arrested, officers allowed the 40 to 50 teenagers who had been in the backyard — “consuming what appeared to be alcoholic beverages and yelling at each other”— to leave.
But some of the largest and most violent parties have occurred in Miami-Dade County.
Authorities in Miami Beach arrested the man accused of throwing the July 5 party that ended in a double shooting. Court records show that Anthony Shnayderman, the organizer of the festivities, was charged with using a residential property as a commercial venue and with a misdemeanor violation of the county’s emergency health ordinance. He was released on a $500 bond.
The shooting remains an open investigation, and details why violence erupted are unclear, but WSVN-Ch. 7 showed footage of partygoers fleeing the house in panic as shot after shot rang out.
In response, Miami Beach officials pulled the house’s occupancy permit, disconnected its utilities, and barred entry to the premises without a court order. The number of people present at the house when the shooting occurred is unclear.
Shnayderman couldn’t be reached for comment.
At least one big bash over the holiday weekend escaped the scrutiny of authorities.
The organizers of one July 4 event event say some 250 people attended their Miami warehouse party like it was still 2019. Video from the party shows about a hundred revelers dancing and carousing in close proximity without any masks on.
The organizers say the party went off without a hitch, while city officials and the Miami Police Department say they were unaware that the festivities even had taken place until the day after.
After learning of the party, Stephanie Severino, spokeswoman for the mayor of Miami, said “everybody needs to start doing their part.”
The party’s organizer said his company has been hired to put on several events during the pandemic, and it has done its part to keep revelers safe from the virus.
“Everybody wants to party, it’s Miami. Everybody is looking for the next party,” says Salomon Hilu, owner of MIA Entertainment Co, the outfit that organized the pandemic party, of his company’s approach.
Hilu declined to say who hired his company to throw the party, or the event’s exact location. He gave no specifics about prior events.
Hilu says partygoers were screened at the door by a “state-of-the-art” disinfection machine that checked temperatures, captured facial recognition data, and cleansed partygoers with a disinfecting spray. He said symptomatic individuals were turned away at the door, though it is unclear how many were denied entry, and that a list of all attendees was kept in order to inform everyone, should anyone later test positive.
Masks were not required indoors at the event.
Dr. Aileen Marty, a professor of infectious diseases at Florida International University, finds the company’s safety strategy lacking.
Breaking News Alerts Newsletter
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
“That would clean your external surfaces, but the moment you start breathing you’re going to infect people again,” Marty said, after seeing a marketing pamphlet published by the makers of the disinfection machine that Hilu provided to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Marty notes that in Miami-Dade, about 23% of people were testing positive for the virus that weekend. “Which means roughly 1 in 4 people are positive. If you have 250 people and assume 1 in 4 is positive, that means 60 people were shedding virus in that event,” she says.
“That’s why it’s insane.”
Davis, the partygoer, says she went because the disinfection device made her feel secure, and because she was tired of being cooped up.
“They offered preventative measures that no one else did. To me, that seems innovative. They took our temperature at the door and we walked through a sanitizing machine. If there are ways to support our local economy while being safe, why wouldn’t we do that?” she wrote over Instagram messenger.
Hilu says his party wasn’t the only one that evening. He says he saw ads for more bashes over social media and heard of others through word of mouth.