For the attendees of a circuit party in Georgia, coronavirus was the last thing on their minds.
Across digital flyers and social media posts, the organisers of Peach Party Atlanta 2020 urged attendees to come wearing face coverings and practice social distancing.
Yet, as much as the four-day festival was billed as a dialled-down affair, video footage taken at the sold-out circuit parties showed a vastly different story.
At the August 28 “Peach Party Tea Dance” held at Atanta LGBT+ club Heretic, scores of partygoers stuffed into the 1,000 square foot-wide space across three patios, fans occasionally dotting the dancefloor.
Despite signs instructing partygoers to maintain a distance as well as wear masks, the dance area was rammed with countless men pressed up against one another, and barely anyone was wearing a mask.
Similar scenes took place at a second Peach Party event held in Heretic the following night, as well as another event at District Atlanta on August 30, according to social media videos uploaded by attendees.
Just one event was held outdoors – the other six were in nightclubs, spaces considered by health experts as petri dishes for the coronavirus.
Scenes of shirtless, maskless men at gay circuit party spark fury online.
For nine years, Peach Party has been a highlight of the Georgia circuit party calendar and a crucial way for the city’s LGBT+ community to blow off steam.
The beloved festival, typically held in June, was thrown into jeopardy as the coronavirus began to gnaw on nearly every facet of modern life and was delayed earlier this year.
As quickly as Georgia shut down, it swung back open. Coronavirus cases in the state have been skyrocketing after Republican governor Brian Kemp began allowing businesses to reopen as early as late April, against public health recommendations.
Nightclubs reopened in June, though Heretic was forced to briefly re-close after partygoers tested positive for COVID-19, following reports hundreds of men had been dancing closely together without masks.
Peach Party announced it would be running in August, with its website saying it has “scaled all events back to a small group instead of the normal party”, and noted that masks were “required”.
Heretic’s general manager Alan Collins beamed with pride in an August 13 Facebook post as he showed off a revamped patio space outside the club, now splashed with the colours of the Pride flag, prepping for the outdoor party.
He urged club-goers to come wearing masks and said that staffers could provide free masks as needed.
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Moreover, Collins said, Heretic would operate at 35 per cent capacity and had installed hand sanitiser stations, in line with the Georgia Department of Health’s guidelines for bars operating amid the pandemic.
The code states that bars must “prevent activities that enable close human contact”, and that, for temporary outdoor events in which more than 50 people are attending, social distancing must be enforced.
“If you are sick or think you may have been exposed to COVID-19, PLEASE STAY HOME,” Collins added.
As images of the Peach Party crowds radiated online, some Facebook users branded those in attendance as “reckless”, while others simply resigned to saying: “No one cares anymore.”
At the time of writing, there have been at least 256,544 cases and 5,604 deaths in Georgia since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a New York Times database. More than 187,000 people have died across the US.
PinkNews contacted Peach Party Atlanta, Heretic and District for comment.