Hannaford said he believed they were hosting the “safest possible” event.
But the following week, emails started pouring in with positive test results, tallying up at least 41 infections out of about 250-300 attendees — a positivity rate between 13% and 16%. Hannaford said that “most” of the cases have been asymptomatic or mild, but at least one attendee was hospitalized in serious condition.
It’s unclear if more attendees have since tested positive. Hannaford and the Louisiana Health Department did not immediately respond to CBS News’ requests for comment.
“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 spokesperson for New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said during a news conference Tuesday. “And when those guidelines are not adhered to, you see a spike in infections, you see a superspreader event.”
Officials said the event was not permitted, but that the city did review its safety protocols ahead of time. “This is a very stark example of what happens when you don’t obey the law,” the spokesperson said.
Hannaford said attendees were encouraged to keep diaries of all interactions during the event, regardless of whether that contact involved sex. Those diaries are currently being used to carry out “aggressive” contact tracing.
“Sometimes it is O.K. to admit that we do not have the answers. I don’t have the answer now, and I didn’t have the answer on November 11th, the day our event started,” Hannaford said. “But I wouldn’t do it again if I knew then what I know now. It weighs on me and it will continue to weigh on me until everyone is 100% better.”
“We won’t have another big event until next August, providing a vaccine is available and we have turned the corner on this pandemic,” organizers said.
The event began the same day that New Orleans, once a COVID-19 hotspot, implemented its Phase 3.3 reopening plan, which increased the allowed sizes of indoor gatherings to 100 masked, socially distanced people. The plan required some special events and live entertainment to obtain permits.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has since reintroduced stricter statewide guidelines as coronavirus cases spike nationally. As of Wednesday, the state has reported over 237,000 cases and over 6,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.