The sex industry has evolved to the challenges put forth by the coronavirus pandemic in creative ways, whether it be by launching Instagram strip clubs or password-protected Zoom circle-jerks. Yet transitioning intimacy over to the digital realm is admittedly pretty difficult, and even though cases are once again climbing across the country, many folks are desperate for some return to normalcy, even if it comes at a price.
Bob Hannaford, the 54-year-old organizer of the Naughty N’Awlins swingers event, recently learned this firsthand. In a blog post he published on Friday, Hannaford said that 41 attendees at the November event in New Orleans — which markets itself on Twitter as the “most popular lifestyle and swinger convention event in the country since 1998” — had since tested positive for Covid-19, a positivity rate of about 13 percent.
“I wouldn’t do it again if I knew then, what I know now,” Hannaford wrote in a blog post, about hosting the event. “It weighs on me and it will continue to weigh on me until everyone is 100% better.”
Hannaford wrote that he deliberated for months over whether to hold the event, which typically attracts more than 2,000 guests per year. Though it was originally supposed to be held in July, he ultimately decided to hold the event in November, due to case rates in New Orleans being relatively low at the time and the city entering Phase 3 reopening. (It has since reverted back to Phase 2 as the result of a recent surge in the city.) “People wondered if it was possible and more so, was it moral or ethical,” he wrote. “We asked ourselves this question over and over again in the weeks leading up to our event.”
While the decision to hold the convention attracted criticism on social media, Hannaford worked with a virologist to institute various protocols, including temperature checks, requiring guests to wear masks (except while eating or drinking), and strongly encouraging all attendees to get tested beforehand, with color-coded bracelets identifying who had Covid-19 antibodies and who had recently tested negative. “I believe that we created the safest possible event,” he told Nola.com on November 14th.
Despite these protocols, Hannaford said he started receiving emails a few days after the event that attendees were testing positive. While most of the positive cases were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms, he wrote that at least one person had to be admitted to the hospital. He attributed the transmission to the “complacency [that] set in” toward the end of the event. “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 ‘Fuck 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 did not immediately return requests for comment.)
In his blog post, Hannaford wrote about the devastating financial impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on adult clubs. “There are many clubs out there that will not last long enough to see 2021,” he said. He wrote that he wanted to have an open discussion about the risks of holding such events “so we can all make informed decisions” during the pandemic.