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Unmasked conga line at Whitestone Republican Club Christmas party

Screenshot from December 22, 2020 video by Matt Binder/ Twitter

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Despite a nationwide increase in COVID-19 cases and health professionals urging Americans not to gather, some people are still hosting packed holiday parties. Last week a video of maskless individuals partaking in a conga line during a holiday party at a New York restaurant went viral on social media. Since then at least one party attendee has been hospitalized with COVID-19. Additionally, New York's State Liquor Authority has suspended the restaurant's liquor license, NBC News reported.

The party hosted by the Whitestone Republican Club was held at Il Bacco, an Italian restaurant in Queens, on Dec. 9. Despite claims by the hosting organization that safety precautions were followed, social media posts depicted little to no social distancing with barely any masks in sight. While it is unclear how many people attended the party, at least 50 can be seen dancing on the floor or sitting at a nearby table in the footage shared on social media. Photos of the gathering posted on Facebook also depict at least half a dozen attendees without masks.

The event took place five days before New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, banned indoor dining following an increase in COVID-19 cases within the state. Mask mandates have been in place for public settings since April, but indoor dining had resumed shortly amid the pandemic. Addressing the video, Cuomo called it a "COVID conga line."

"If you do not take precautions, your likelihood that you will get the virus is higher," Cuomo said in a statement. "COVID conga lines are not smart. That's my official position." Local politicians were seen in attendance at the party including Former Queens Assembly candidate James Martionsky and current City Council candidate Vicke Paladino; Paladino led the conga line.

As a result of backlash, the Whitestone Republican Club posted a statement last week claiming that Cuomo and media outlets were exaggerating the situation. "But we are not the mask police, nor are we the social distancing police. Adults have the absolute right to make their own decisions and clearly many chose to interact like normal humans and not paranoid zombies in hazmat suits," the statement said.

According to the Queens Daily Eagle, the hospitalized man has been identified as Jim Trent, chairman of the board of the Queens Village Republican Club. While only he was hospitalized, his wife too tested positive for the virus in addition to another unidentified couple. Trent told the Queens Daily Eagle that he fell sick within two days of attending the party. He claimed he did not understand how he got infected as he thought he was safe and "wasn't doing anything risky."

"I wasn't on the conga line. I ate by myself," Trent told the Queens Daily Eagle. "I don't know how I got this."

Despite it being highly possible Trent contracted COVID-19 from the party, he told the Queens Daily Eagle he had no regret in attending, noting that "it was a wonderful time and a great party, but I'm not happy I got sick."

Upon hearing the news of Trent's COVID-19 complications, Thomas Paladino, chief strategist of his mother's city council campaign, issued a statement to BuzzFeed News criticizing the media's portrayal of the event.

"The media hysteria around this is shameful, it really is," Thomas Paladino said. He added that while he has not spoken to Trent he was glad Trent did not regret attending the party and was recovering.

"It speaks very poorly of our society and our media and ourselves that an ordinary holiday party is now being made into something that we're supposed to feel ashamed of," Paladino said.

He compared the COVID-19 spreader to a holiday party at which he fell down the stairs and broke his ankle. "Do I regret going to the party? Maybe," Paladino told BuzzFeed News. "Is it the party's fault? No. Life happens."

As of Thursday morning, more than 19.7 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus, according to The New York Times database. Since the beginning of the pandemic, New York alone has seen at least 936,647 cases of COVID-19 and more than 37,000 deaths in the state as a result.


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