NEW ORLEANS — Bob Hannaford has regrets.
Hannaford, the New Orleans owner of Naughty Events, went forward last month with “Naughty N’awlins,” an annual swingers’ convention held in the Big Easy. He implemented several COVID-19 restrictions, including a greatly reduced crowd size, masking in public spaces and a requirement that attendees show paperwork proving their negative test results.
“Sometimes it is OK to admit that we do not have the answers,” Hannaford wrote. “I don’t have the answer now, and I didn’t have the answer on November 11th, the day our event started. 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.”
City officials told WDSU in New Orleans that Hannaford did not need a permit for the event, which began on the same day that the city relaxed some of its COVID-19 restrictions. Beau Tidwell, communications director for the city, told the news station that authorities have discouraged all large gatherings since the start of the pandemic.
About 250 people checked in for the event, held at the NOPSI Hotel in downtown New Orleans. Last year, about 2,000 people attended the convention, NOLA.com reported.
“We went to extraordinary measures for check-in and instituted a touchless process with required temperature checks, social distancing in line and sanitizing upon check-in,” Hannaford wrote in his blog post. “We issued wristbands in one color to indicate who had antibodies and therefore was not contagious. We issued a second color to those that showed us a very recent negative COVID-19 test. The wristbands even had each person’s date of their test circled.
“Over 50% of our attendees had the antibodies and many of the rest got tested right before the event. We were feeling better and better about the risk potential as the event was about to kick off.”
Attendees were required to wear masks in public spaces, including at parties and at the hotel’s rooftop pool. Hannaford wrote that he was happy to see the participants taking the precautions seriously.
“We went out to eat with friends on Sunday night, celebrating the success and contemplating the future,” he wrote. “The next day the texts started.”
The first report of a positive case came the day after the event ended. By that day’s end, however, a total of five attendees reported testing positive.
By the following day, the number had tripled. As of Friday, it stood at 41.
NOLA.com pointed out that Hannaford’s count did not appear to include any NOPSI employees who might have tested positive after the hotel hosted the event.
Most of the attendees who tested positive had either no symptoms or mild symptoms, Hannaford wrote. One person was hospitalized in serious condition but has since been sent home.
“We have been very aggressive with contact tracing,” he wrote. “During check-in, we issued diaries to everyone so it would be easier to track who they interacted with. We didn’t just mean sex. We strongly urged everyone to keep a diary for everyone that they were in contact with for more than 10 minutes, especially without a mask.
“The diaries really paid off and allowed us to reach out to more and more people that were documented in their diaries.”
Hannaford wrote that he blames complacency for the positive tests.
“When we contacted the people that were positive, we asked them several questions to find more potential positive cases and try to find out where the biggest risks took place,” he wrote in his blog post. “In almost every case, they admitted to us that they were super diligent on the first two days (Wed & Thurs) and then they relaxed a little on Friday and then they said, ‘(Expletive) it, it’s our last day,’ and many admitted that their lax effort on that final day is probably why they ended up positive.”
Hannaford wrote that the data he had when deciding whether to hold the convention showed that COVID-19 numbers were going in the right direction. Since then, he said, numbers have begun to spike again nationwide.
He told WDSU that organizers “met or exceeded” all state and city COVID-19 protocols for the event.
“We tried our best to create a bubble, but it’s very difficult,” he told the news station.
He has regrets.
“If I could go back in time, I would not produce this event again,” he wrote on the blog.
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