The Society of Stranders puts on a Shag (a regional Swing dance) festival every fall in North Myrtle Beach SC. This year, with the pandemic, the organization made the hard but necessary decision to cancel ( pdf, fb). Unfortunately, one of the venues decided to go ahead with their part of the festival:

The precautions they took were essentially hygiene theater, focused on surfaces while the primary risk by far is people breathing in each others faces:

Routinely cleaning and disinfecting thru out the opening hours and a complete cleaning and disinfection after closing. Hand sanitizing stations have been positioned thru out the club and cafe. Masks are available free of charge for anyone that requests one. A person will be designated as a "floater" that will have the responsibility of observing crowds for anyone that may appear sick and handling related issues including taking temperatures. Capacity levels will be maintained as specified by the Fire Marshall. Security is present during all hours of the event. Large crowds around the bar and other areas of the club will be dispersed.

On masks:

Some people wore them, some didn't. I think the regs require all establishments have a notice stating masks are required but only a few of the establishments enforce it nor are they required to do so.

Looking at pictures posted by a DJ I saw two people wearing masks after skimming ~100+ thumbnails.

Several hundred people attended (the most common estimate I've seen is "500+") and now:

More than 60 Dancers with COVID-19. Some are in hospital. It is life threatening. ... Dancers came from all over because they couldn't get out of hotel contracts etc. and wanted to party & dance with everyone.

I know people miss dancing and want to get back to it, but this event illustrates how easily covid can propagate between dancers. We need to be patient and find other ways to stay in touch with each other while we wait.

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First, I am very curious what the results would have been with enforced mask-wearing.

Second, at what point in the pandemic to we start accepting that to some people, risks similar to this may be worth it and should be their choice? It's been seven months and it's about to be winter. If safe options for socialization aren't available or aren't meeting people's needs, they are going to go for unsafe options. I expect that by two years into the pandemic I will be ready to go to a dance weekend and then do my due diligence to quarantine strictly for two weeks to make sure I don't expose anyone who didn't choose to be exposed. Now, at 7 months, I would consider the same for an outdoor event with compulsory masks but no distancing. Some people cannot find what makes them feel human through virtual events only. 

I am very curious what the results would have been with enforced mask-wearing.

I am too, but I think the kind of group where people would reliably wear masks is not the kind of group that puts on a dance event right now, so we're unlikely to find out.

at what point in the pandemic to we start accepting that to some people, risks similar to this may be worth it and should be their choice?

There are roughly two approaches that seem to make sense with covid:

  • A thorough lockdown where you get cases low enough to be held in check through testing and contact tracing. Famously described as hammer and dance. Continue until vaccine, better treatments, better understanding, etc./

  • Accept that everyone is going to get it at some point, keep things closed only enough that cases don't overwhelm the medical system, go for herd immunity.

The US is trying for the first approach, but we are doing very poorly. On the other hand, if we were to switch to the second approach we would probably see about 2M dead instead of 200k. The problem is, we can't be picking an individual level which of these two approaches to take or else the first approach will work even less well.

I do think we will not still be in the situation at the two-year mark. We'll have a vaccine, better treatments, or we will have decided to take (or defaulted into) the second approach.


Those two options are part of a much larger picture, that seems really simplistic. Most places aren't doing any real contact tracing right now - the white house certainly isn't. We might be 'saved' by a vaccine, we might not. I don't think that any of us thought, two weeks in, that we'd still be here seven months in. I figure it's 50-50 that dancing is a significantly lower risk (say a factor of at least 2) two years in than it is now. There's no coherent plan, no coherent timeline for how long you have to endure this. Right now it's people's employers that mostly decide what risk they get stuck with. Seems reasonable to me that people should get some say themselves, too. Some people may choose to live very careful lives for as long as it takes, others may not.