Fire Island is under fire for violating social distancing guidelines over the July 4 weekend.
Clips and images of hundreds of maskless, shirtless partygoers packed on beaches and in private homes circulated on social media through influencers like journalist Chris Weidner. The posts sparked backlash and calls for more action from law enforcement.
Police broke up at least one beach bash on Sunday and will disband any future ones, the Fire Island Pines Property Owners Association asserted in a new set of guidelines released Sunday in response to the gatherings. House parties will also now be "regulated and monitored" by the Suffolk County police department, which oversees the island.
"If you see something, say something. We urge you to report large gatherings immediately to 911," said President Jay Pagano.
Last weekend marked the 44th Invasion of the Pines, a popular event in which drag queens descend on Fire Island Pines, a gay hamlet off the coast of Long Island.
Some are calling for more action. Jonathan D. Lovitz, senior vice president of NGLCC, was among those who tagged Gov. Andrew Cuomo demanding a mandatory quarantine of revelers at the popular gay tourism location.
Cuomo moved New York State into Phase 3 of reopening on Sunday. The state successfully flattened its curve of COVID-19 infections after emerging as a global hot spot. The governor is aware of the Fire Island gatherings, according to the property owners' group.
The sight of so many people not practicing guidelines like mask-wearing and social distancing was triggering for many on social media, who feared it could help feed a second wave. In a Facebook response, Vinny Vega, a New York promoter and COVID-19 survivor, slammed the "bunch of entitled gay men who can’t take one season off of partying to save the collective lives of the human race."
"The Fire Island 2020 season should be flat out cancelled. These island goers cannot be trusted to social distance, and THEY WILL end up resulting in asymptomatic individuals bringing the virus into the masses of NYC and other places ... and a second wave will occur," Vega warned.
Fears of the Fire Island parties becoming super-spreader events were compounded by visitor Corey Hannon, who had claimed in social media posts to have contracted the virus before journeying to the island last weekend.
“Everyone knows I had COVID, and you know what I did?” he said in one video. “I sat in my fucking bedroom and quarantined myself for eight fucking days. And suffered through COVID. And now I’m out celebrating."
In a statement on Instagram, P.J. McAteer, managing director of the Fire Island Pines Commercial District, said he was "sickened" by Hannon and banned him from Fire Island's bars and restaurants. McAteer urged the community to wear masks and practice social distancing at all events.
Hannon later backtracked the remarks. In an apology post, he claimed the video was a joke posted publicly by mistake and that he had felt ill prior to visiting Fire Island but was still waiting for his COVID-19 test results.
Giancarlo Kristian Albanese also exhibited contempt for health guidelines in the caption of a social media post showing a packed beach on a moonlit night; it was not clear if the shot had been taken last weekend or earlier. “Fuck your mask," Albanese said. “Fuck your social distancing. Fuck your vaccine. Fuck your eugenics. Kiss my asshole if you think I’m an ass.”
Of course, Fire Island was not unique in showcasing a disregard for health guidelines. Beaches around the country filled for Independence Day festivities, despite warnings from health officials on rising infection rates.
While anger at gay men breaking rules is justified, Mathew Rodriguez, associate editor at TheBody.com, cautioned against singling out "queer people as vectors of disease" and empowering law enforcement to police queer spaces during a health pandemic in a Twitter thread.
"I believe that we buy into internalized homophobic messages about gay people having less self control, less willpower and less concern for their own health that the right has spewed about us for years when we engage in this kind of rhetoric," Rodriguez said.
"My anger continues to be directed toward the federal government and its gross negligence toward human life," he said. "That doesn't mean that's where yours needs to be, but I hope we can see with compassionate eyes."