What is Art With Me festival? How Tulum event turned into Covid-19 super-spreader in New York

A private testing company claims 60-70% of the positive tests in the last few weeks in New York City were among those who attended the event or people who had become exposed to someone who did

                            What is Art With Me festival? How Tulum event turned into Covid-19 super-spreader in New York
(Getty Images)

The Art With Me festival in Tulum, Mexico, which was held over four days from November 11 to 15, is now been described as a super-spreader event after many positive coronavirus tests have been tied to the event. Several attendees of the Burning Man-style festival with its art installations, music acts and partying, have reportedly brought back Covid-19 with them to New York City. Private Covid-19 testing company Checkmate Health Strategies attributed several of its recent positive cases to the Tulum event. 

“What I’ve seen in my small cohort are people testing positive after coming back from Mexico — particularly Art With Me in Tulum. I would say that 60-70% of my positives in the last couple of weeks in New York City have been a direct result of either people coming back from Art With Me, or who have been directly exposed to someone who attended Art With Me. And I test in Miami as well, and my testers there tell me that a lot of their positives are people coming back from Art With Me,” Eleonora Walczak, the founder of Checkmate Health Strategies, told the Daily Beast.

The Art With Me website describes it as a festival that “offers experiences across multiple platforms that immerse, inspire and activate attendees and followers.” It notes, “Our mission is to preserve the natural environment and foster artistic development through conscious and sustainable practice. We are a community-driven festival that combines art, music, workshops, wellness, and cultural experiences into a 5-day and 4-night journey to inspire change, and nurture personal growth.”

The website lists recommendations intended to prevent coronavirus transmission such as mandatory face masks. “Masks will be mandatory for all inside the event unless you are eating. Security will be enforcing these guidelines throughout the event but we ask for everyone to take responsibility for our collective health and safety. All guests and staff will follow CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) regulated social distancing guidelines,” it says. 

The festival website lists recommendations intended to prevent coronavirus transmission such as mandatory face masks and following social distancing guidelines (Getty Images)

Among policies listed for guests, the website states that event staff are supplied with personal protection equipment and will be required to wear face masks and shields when interacting with other staff or guests; restrooms will be provided and disinfected after each use; there will be special isolation facilities (ambulance) in case anyone shows any symptoms of the virus; thermal temperature will be checked upon entry and hand sanitizers will be available on-site. 

For staff, it mentions that all staff will be required to sanitize and wash hands every 15 minutes, wear a face mask, all equipment will be cleaned every 15 minutes, and staff will be tested every day before returning to work

On venue safety, it lists that all high touch surfaces will be disinfected every hour; trained and licensed security personnel will be on-site to prevent unauthorized entry of any kind and to keep people safe from others and themselves and guidelines will be given in activity areas to help guests maintain a safe social distance.

As far as food and beverages are concerned, the fest notes that all equipment, food and beverage will be properly disinfected before entering the event site; all meals will be plated and packaged as per current health and safety guidelines and single-use biodegradable containers and utensils must be used to serve all food.

However, despite the suggestions, many guests and performers stressed that there was virtually no mask-wearing or social distancing. “I have nothing good to say about this event. They served food too — all open barbecue finger food. Everyone was grabbing with their hands. All I will say is that there was not one mask and I got more sick than I ever did in my entire life after that party,” a woman who got Covid-19 after attending the fest told the Daily Beast.

Videos obtained by the outlet shows hundreds of maskless people moving around to music. “Art With Me offered a number of wellness and art activities during the day; by night, however, it transformed into an electronic music fest, with hordes of maskless people packing into hotels, restaurants, and cenotes (underground caves) to dance to DJ sets. The Daily Beast has observed a number of videos from Art With Me events showing hundreds of people writhing and flailing along to the music,” it adds.

Videos show hundreds of maskless people moving around to electronic music (Getty Images)

When Anna Yeung-Cheung, a microbiologist from Hong Kong who works at Manhattanville College, saw the videos, she emphasized that the way that “they’re jam-packed on the dance floor — it’s very dangerous during this time.”

Be Svendsen, a Danish DJ who performed during Art With Me, claims he got coronavirus following the fest, and that he “heard of at least 17 other people” who also got infected with the virus.

Rodrigo Palencia, whose event-producing firm Petit Gatherings put on a cenote dance party on November 16, a day after the fest, also says that “one of my partners was going to the parties at Art With Me and he tested positive.” According to Palencia, the onus should be on participants who refuse to follow public health advice.

“In the end, it’s not about Tulum — it’s about people. We are giving you a party and trying to do something to kill the stress that we all have, but just wear a mask. And people just don’t understand. And we can’t kick everyone out that’s not wearing a mask. It’s complicated,” argues Palencia.

An administrator at the Hospital de Tulum said that “multiple people” who attended the bash were admitted with Covid-19 — almost all tourists from North America and South American countries, including Chile and Argentina.

Walczak contends that events such as this one should at a minimum implement a testing strategy. “I understand the psychological component of wanting to socialize, but what I do find grossly negligent and highly irresponsible is, individuals who have enough money to attend these events have the appropriate tools to screen properly, and the fact that they’re not screening is what’s troublesome,” explains Walczak.

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