How Tulum’s Burning Man Became a COVID Superspreader Event

Michelle * could barely move. She describes high fever, diarrhea, fatigue, and loss of taste and smell. “I couldn’t even get out of bed,” she recalls.

About a week before, she had attended Art With Me, a four-day festival in Tulum, Mexico. Describing itself as “a community festival that combines art, music, workshops, wellness and cultural experiences in a 5 day, 4 night trip to inspire change and foster personal growth”, it is akin to Burning Man on the beach, with imposing art installations, group meditations and numerous parties. As COVID-19 ravaged Mexico, claiming the lives of more than 100,000 people – resulting in one of the highest death rates in the world – Art With Me organizers were not deterred, organizing its third annual edition from November 11 to 15.

Although the festival’s website has a list of recommendations designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, from disinfecting surfaces to following “CDC-regulated social distancing guidelines” and wearing masks, a number of Guests and artists who took part in this year’s Art With Me tell the Daily Beast that there was virtually no mask or social distancing at the festival.

“I have nothing good to say about this event,” says Michelle, who uses a pseudonym. She is one of the many people we spoke to who said they contracted COVID-19 after attending Art With Me. “They also served food – all open barbecue appetizers. Everyone was gripping with their hands, ”she recalls. “All I’ll say is there wasn’t a single mask and I got sicker than ever in my life after that party.

Art With Me offered a number of wellness and art activities during the day; by night, however, it turned into an electronic music festival, with hordes of maskless people racing to hotels, restaurants, and cenotes (underground caves) to dance to DJ sets. The Daily Beast observed a number of Art With Me event videos showing hundreds of people twisting and struggling to the beat of the music.

Be Svendsen, a Danish DJ who played a cenote during Art With Me, claims he had COVID after the festival, and that he “heard from at least 17 other people” who also caught COVID after having attended festival parties.

Mexican DJ who has played a handful of Art With Me events, Xwnia Wolf, told The Daily Beast, “The only time I’m going to be without a mask is when I’m playing. She says she didn’t hear from anyone who got sick as a result of her two cenote DJ sets, which were for about 150 people each, but that “there was another cenote party where this party, yeah , I hear they have so much. “

Art With Me, along with its organizers and the 21 hotels it has partnered with, have not commented on The Daily Beast. But we did manage to join Rodrigo Palencia, a 34-year-old man from Guadalajara whose event production company Petit Gatherings hosted a cenote dance party on November 16, a day after the party. According to Palencia, “One of my partners was going to parties at Art With Me and he tested positive.”

Palencia argues that the responsibility should not necessarily lie with those who organize and host these Tulum events, but rather with the participants who refuse to wear masks or keep their distance.

“At the end of the day, it’s not about Tulum, it’s about people,” Palencia suggests. “We’re having a party for you and trying to do something to kill the stress that we all have, but just wear a mask. And people just don’t get it. And we can’t kick everyone out who isn’t wearing a mask. It is complicated.”

When I asked him why these events couldn’t test people before, and maybe even require a bracelet indicating a negative test to enter, he questioned the accuracy of standard rapid tests and pointed to a shortage of tests. Rapid PCRs for COVID in the Region.

“We don’t really have those tests yet, which is why it’s getting more complicated here,” he says.

Antonio Romero, administrator of Tulum Hospital, the closest hospital to the Tulum hotel zone, tells the Daily Beast that they have admitted “several people” with COVID who attended the Art With Me festival, and that they treat almost exclusively the tourists who have contracted the virus. He says the hospital typically receives about two to three US tourists a day with COVID, but warned the majority of their patients are from Chile, Argentina and other South American countries.

Medical experts are currently warning of any type of large gathering without social distancing or masks. When I showed videos of Art With Me dance parties to Anna Yeung-Cheung, a Hong Kong microbiologist who works at Manhattanville College, she couldn’t believe her eyes.

I would say 60-70% of my positives over the past two weeks in New York were a direct result of people returning from Art With Me, or being directly exposed to someone who attended Art. With Me.

“The way they’re crowded on the dance floor – it’s very dangerous during this time,” says Yeung-Cheung. “It seems crazy to go to a party where you are not tested for COVID. Needless to say, it seems like they’re pretty reckless in doing this. And it only takes a. “

She cites her native Hong Kong, which has managed to control the spread of the virus and minimize cases by “taking all necessary measures to close this type of place and controlling the number of people per square meter in an area.”

To make matters worse, many Art With Me attendees appear to have brought the virus back to America. I spoke with Eleonora Walczak, the founder of Checkmate Health Strategies, a private COVID care and testing company operating in New York and Miami, who tells me that most of the people she has tested positive for COVID in a few weeks were either people who attended. Art With Me or those who have come into direct contact with someone who has done so.

“What I saw in my small cohort were people who tested positive after returning from Mexico, especially Art With Me in Tulum,” says Walczak, who is based in Brooklyn. “I would say 60-70% of my positive results over the past two weeks in New York were a direct result of people returning from Art With Me, or who were directly exposed to someone who attended. at Art With Me. And I’m also testing in Miami, and my testers there tell me a lot of their positives are from people coming back from Art With Me.

Walczak argues that at a minimum, events need to implement a strong testing strategy to ensure they don’t spread the virus – or, in the case of Art With Me, become a mass-market event.

“I understand the psychological component of wanting to socialize, but what I find grossly neglectful and very irresponsible is that people who have enough money to attend these events have the proper tools to screen properly, and the the fact that they are not being detected is what is really annoying, ”says Walczak.

She adds: “The same people who complain about the lockdown are perpetuating the lockdown cycle. You’re just making it harder for us to crush this thing.

While many people have contracted COVID-19 after attending Art With Me, his lack of social distancing and wearing a mask is by no means unusual in Tulum, where tourists – many of them Americans – have come. on vacation (and ignore the health guidelines).

“I don’t think it makes sense to point out a single small gathering, when an entire city full of people was, and still is, partying without a mask and clearly without worrying or being in the slightest bit careful. “, Svendsen, who travels all around the world of DJing, says. “Art With Me and Tulum in general should be the story.”

As of this writing, Mexico has recorded over one million cases of COVID-19 and over 100,000 deaths. In Quintana Roo, the very touristy state including Tulum and Cancun, nearly 2,000 people have died from coronavirus. The situation became so dire that at the end of November, the CDC awarded Mexico its highest rating (4), warning that “travelers should avoid all travel to Mexico.”

Yet in Tulum, the party continues – and many live in a state of denial.

“People just ignore the fact that there is a virus around, wear masks just because they have to do it in certain places like the supermarket and live their lives as usual,” says a representative from PLUTO, a digital marketing team that manages events in Tulum. “It’s just happening in Tulum – the rest of the country seems to be taking things a little more seriously. I prefer the Tulum way.

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