March 16, 2020 at 12:08 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Attendee at LGBTQ dance fundraiser in Miami tests positive for coronavirus
gay travel, gay news, Washington Blade
Winter Party Miami, in early March, promises endless gay parties in a balmy Florida setting. (Photo courtesy the event)

An attendee at a fundraising dance party in Miami for the National LGBTQ Task Force has tested positive for the coronavirus, the organization informed participants last night in a letter shared with the Washington Blade.

The organization — best known for its annual “Creating Change” conference — informed attendees of the event Sunday night about the attendee who tested positive for coronavirus via a letter from Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force.

“I was informed that one of our Winter Party Festival guests tested positive for COVID-19 in the week following our event,” Carey said in a news statement Monday. “We are grateful to them for alerting us, particularly given that they were not experiencing symptoms during WPF and had traveled elsewhere, but wanted to make sure we were aware of this development.”

The Winter Party, which took place this year March 4 to 10, is a week-long celebration of beach parties and nightclub dancing in Miami. According to the Task Force, the official number of attendees at the event was 5,500 people.

It’s unknown how the attendee was infected. The Task Force as of Monday morning had yet to report other cases of attendees testing positive for coronavirus.

Carey said in the letter “there are many places people could have been exposed before and after Winter Party as this virus has developed.”

But coronavirus infection among event attendees doesn’t appear to be isolated to one individual, based on an account of one participant at the event.

The attendee, who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity, said Monday he had direct exposure to one friend who subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus.

“Within my group of friends, 10 or so of us have flu-like symptoms,” the attendee said. “I’ve chatted with acquaintances who in most cases say that they have many sick friends within their groups as well.”

The attendee added he’s part of a group chat with roughly 80 members and an estimated 20 of them say they have flu-like symptoms.

“Most of us are not eligible for testing so are self quarantined and recovering at home,” the attendee said.

Based on social media posts, the attendee said there could be up to three confirmed cases of Winter Party attendees who tested positive for coronavirus.

Carey insisted in a news statement the Winter Party was still held amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus based on “official guidance available at the time.” Precuations undertaken at the event, Carey said, included comprehensive signage with CDC information about practicing good hygiene and making alcohol-based hand sanitizer available throughout the Festival.

“Information and circumstances have changed rapidly since WPF,” Carey said. “We continue to encourage all WPF guests to monitor their health, practice social distancing, wash hands with soap, use hand sanitizer and contact their doctor if they think they are exhibiting symptoms. If one tests positive for COVID-19, we urge them to contact those they were in direct contact with so all  can take steps to monitor their health and speak with their doctors.”

The Washington Blade has placed a request for comment with the Task Force about whether there are additional reports of infections.

In the aftermath of the Winter Party, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said during a news conference Sunday the beach would be closing from 5th Street to 15th Street, and there would be an 11 p.m. curfew in the entertainment district, according to a local report from NBC Miami.

“We can’t have the kinds of crowds we’ve had, the kinds of gatherings,” Gelber was quoted as saying. “I walked down Ocean Drive yesterday and what I saw was incredibly disturbing, it wasn’t just the typical large gatherings of people, but it was young people who believe they’re invincible and probably don’t really think of this in any way as a health crisis.”

The Task Force’s decision to move forward with the Winter Party last week was met with anger on social media Monday in the aftermath of the report over coronavirus infections and warnings all public events should be cancelled.

Carey, asked to respond to the anger via email, reiterated the Task Force’s position the party continued in accordance with medical guidance at the time.

“The Task Force made the most informed decision we could at the time, but understand the sentiment,” Carey said. “We were working with the most current information about COVID-19 at the time and made a decision based on that. At this point no one can determine when or where individuals during that time period may have been carrying or infected with the virus. Nevertheless, we wanted to be responsible and share the information with our attendees. We can all agree that what we need now is to inform each other and support anyone in our community who has been impacted.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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