What’s It Like to Attend an Underground Party During a Pandemic?

A worrying dispatch from one New York event

Flaming drinks
One writer offers a firsthand look into illegal parties during COVID-19.
Nik Frey/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / May 17, 2020 11:08 am

Since bars, clubs and venues were shuttered across the country in the hopes of reducing the spread of COVID-19, there have been occasional reports of illegal or otherwise unsanctioned events taking place for small groups of people. Gatherings such as this have popped up in New York and San Francisco (and quite possibly elsewhere). It’s one of several areas in which contemporary contrarian behavior has sparked comparisons to Prohibition-era speakeasies — a comparison not without some flaws, to be sure.

To hear of underground events taking place in defiance of various city and state laws can also inspire some curiosity as to what’s actually going on at those events. A new report at Air Mail by Elena Clavarino offers a dispatch from one such event — and it abounds with decadent details and enough violations of social distancing to make a public health official shudder.

Clavarino describes attending an event in downtown Manhattan with a masked bouncer, a cash bar and a guy inside enjoying “cocaine-and-ketamine swirlies.” And the people she spoke with there seemed decidedly convinced of their own resilience:

“We’re young. We’re not the target,” says a blonde girl in a crop top. “I don’t see why not!” A handsome Spaniard in a floral shirt echoes this thinking: “What’s wrong with hanging out amongst ourselves? I don’t know any old people!” No one mentions the fact that what they’re doing is illegal, or that just going to the grocery store the next morning may very well mean coming into contact with at-risk citizens.

The article does a good job of showing the appeal of such an event and showing the worrying behavior of those who attend — attitudes that could be described as both callous and irresponsible if one was so inclined. Given that COVID-19 can spread when carriers are still asymptomatic, it seems well within the realm of possibility that tonight’sA worrying d underground party could become tomorrow’s vector for infection.

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