In early to mid-March, the City of Miami canceled large gatherings such as Calle Ocho, Ultra Music, and Coachella festivals all located in the City of Miami. One event not canceled was the Winter Party Festival, an annual fundraiser that raises millions for various HIV/AIDS causes, and LGBTQ rights. The winter party was held in the City of Miami Beach.
The festival was a week-long event (March 4-10) primarily targeted to gay men. Attendees come from all over the world and visit multiple crowded gatherings throughout the week. Now attendees are becoming ill and dying of COVID-19 with clusters of cases in Washington State and Florida. On March 12th, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber ordered the beach closed. By that time the damage is done. Within days Miami-Dade had 101 cases.
In a press conference on March 10 — on the last day of the Winter Party Festival — a top doctor from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not recommend canceling large gatherings across the board.
“It is really difficult to make those kind of pronouncements broadly,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “So the decisions, for example, in Seattle may look quite different than the decisions being made in a location right now where there is not community spread.”
At the time, state health officials had not yet reported a single case in Miami-Dade County.
“Regarding WPF, we made the most informed decision at the time, following official guidance available at the time,” Carey said in a statement Monday. “Information and circumstances have changed rapidly since WPF.”
Miami Beach leaders stood behind the Task Force’s decision not to cancel, declaring the city “open for business.” When Ultra Music Festival canceled its March concerts, which itself was controversial among fans, Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales said the city would try to give Ultra fans “something to do.”
City-sponsored pool parties were considered at a March 5 meeting. Mass cancellations were not.
“A blanket freeze on everything we do here in Miami Beach or a shutting down of business, to me, that at this point is not warranted,” Commissioner Mark Samuelian said.
— Winter Party Festival (@winter_party) March 30, 2020
A prominent figure in the Florida LGBTQ+ community has died from the ongoing global pandemic after attending the annual Winter Party in Miami. This is the second such passing from attendees who were diagnosed with the virus following the event.
Ron Rich, 65, of Fort Lauderdale, was a talented musician, former high school band director, and a familiar face within the local community for his activism and volunteer work. His death over the weekend was announced Monday in a Facebook post by the National LGBTQ Task Force. Another Winter Party attendee, Israel Carrera, 40, also died after contracting the virus following the event.
— Candee Courtney (@CandeeCourtney) March 27, 2020
While the virus is particularly deadly for the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, it can still fatally strike others as well. Carrera’s partner, Franco Conquista, indicated that Carrera had no underlying issues prior to contracting the virus.
“This poor boy was only 40 years old,” Conquista told WVSN of the Cuban native who had lived in South Florida. “He started to feel sick after the event. We went together. I went to his place, taking care of him for two days, and I also had it. He couldn’t breathe, so he wanted to go to the hospital, and then, he was at the hospital for four or five days. Then, they put him to sleep because he was really agitated, and then, he never woke up again.”