Things That Matter

Mexico’s Version Of Burning Man Became A COVID-19 Super-Spreader Event Thanks To U.S. Tourists

Travelers from the U.S. seem to think that they’re exempt from following CDC guidelines once they’re outside of the country. Case in point: a recent arts and music festival that took place in Tulum – the hipster destination an hour south of Cancun.

Thousands of the U.S. tourists arrived to the small beach town to party at the Art With Me festival despite the fact we’re in the throes of the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yes, it’s true that young people are less likely to become hospitalized or die from COVID-19 infection. However, each of us, regardless of age, have a personal responsibility to be considerate of our more vulnerable neighbors – not to mention the locals at the destinations we’re choosing to visit.

Mexico’s Art With Me festival has been deemed a super-spreader event putting at risk the health of locals.

Mexico’s annual Art With me festival – which supposedly combines wellness, cultural immersion, and electronic music – in Tulum is billed as Mexico’s Burning Man. It’s designed to “inspire and activate attendees,” and has now been deemed a super-spreader event after at least 17 attendees tested positive for COVID-19 in the weeks following the festival.

Art With Me took place from November 11-15 and now less than a month later, doctors in the U.S. are noting an uptick in cases related to the four-day festival.

“I would say that 60-70 percent of my positives in the last couple 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,” said Eleonora Walczak, founder of the private COVID care and testing company Checkmate Health Strategies, in a statement to the Daily Beast. “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.”

Videos of mask-less partygoers started making their rounds on social media.

Although it seems like many attendees tried to conceal their visit to the festival, in the days following the event videos started popping up on social media.

In videos on Facebook and YouTube, hundreds of maskless attendees can be seen dancing and not observing social distancing guidelines. One video refers to the partygoers as “gringos mensos” or “gringo idiots,” so it’s safe to say that the festival didn’t have the blessing of all locals.

The event has put the health of local Mexicans at increased risk as Mexico enters its deadliest phase of the pandemic yet.

Credit: ULISES RUIZ/AFP via Getty Images

COVID-19 has devastated Mexico. In terms of official infections, it appears that Mexico is a far better place than the U.S., but those numbers are deceiving as Mexico has one of the lowest testing rates in the world.

Even taking that low testing rate into account, the virus has infected more than 1.2 million people and killed over 110,000 – giving Mexico the highest case-fatality rate in the world at 9.2 percent, according to Johns Hopkins University.

But those grim numbers haven’t stopped the partying in Tulum.

Tourists, primarily from the United States, Europe, and South America, have descended on the beachy municipality in groups to dine, dance, and flout COVID restrictions. Tourists’ pandemic partying in Tulum has angered locals, who feel their behavior is recklessly endangering the community, and many believe that festivals like this may end up forcing the community to the brink of a public health disaster.

And despite the risk, another music festival is soon planned to take place in the same town.

Just as locals and health officials are starting to recognize the impact that Art With Me had, locals in Tulum are bracing for even more trouble: a more than two-week-long music festival starting on New Year’s Eve, dubbed Zamna.

The electronic music festival is dubbed as a place where “indigenous culture and electronic music unite” but it will end up having a hugely negative impact on the local community – which is made up largely of Indigenous Mexicans – in terms of COVID-19 infections.

Although young folks are less likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID, they may be the demographic most responsible for spreading the virus right now—and delaying a return to normalcy.

“Are they on a different planet than the rest of us and don’t realize there’s a pandemic going on?” Dr. Timothy Brewer, a professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and Medicine, told The Daily Beast. “In the country as a whole, 18- to 49-year-olds are driving this pandemic. 

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