Was Miami Art Week a Superspreader Event?

As New York City is enduring a sharp uptick in Covid-19 cases, some people are blaming Miami Art Week.

Afterparty for “Rimowa: As Seen By” at the Soho Beach House tent. Image courtesy Rimowa

In case you haven’t noticed, the Omicron variant is ripping through New York City and many other places around the globe. On Sunday, the New York Times noted that the number of locals who tested positive for Covid-19 just broke a single day record with over 28,000 newly reported cases. Locals are reporting three-hour waits for Covid tests at urgent care, dozens of restaurants and bars have temporarily closed, office holiday parties are being canceled, and Broadway shows are being put on hold. Despite the sharp uptick in Covid-19 cases due to the Omicron strain in places like London, India, and more, some are blaming Miami Art Week, which lures New Yorkers in droves, as a superspreader event. 

Centered around the marquee Art Basel Miami Beach and Design Miami fairs, the event held from Dec. 2-4 heralded a return to normalcy for an industry whose tolerance for virtual viewing rooms and Zoom cocktails has waned. (Surface was no exception, hosting several panel talks and dinners during the week.) Naturally, many attendees and artists noted they are now either quarantining or sick with Covid. “I attended Art Basel Miami and have tested positive for Covid, the travel blogger Kristi Vikman told Observer. “The only place that checked vaccination cards was the actual convention center [where Art Basel took place]. And masks were optional everywhere. Parties were packed. No sanitizer or masks to be seen.”

Gagosian’s booth at Art Basel Miami Beach 2021. Photography by Georgios Kefalas

So who’s to blame for the outbreak? It’s impossible to point a finger at any single cause, and safety standards were certainly more lax in Miami and Florida overall (as they have been since the onset of the pandemic, with varying results that are constantly compared to stricter regulation states like California.) Some attendees say crowded parties and dinners weren’t checking vaccination cards; masks and sanitizer were nowhere to be found, and many Uber drivers weren’t strictly enforcing mask mandates. While the Art Basel fair required proof of vaccination (a recent negative Covid-19 test or proof of recent covery from the virus were also accepted) and mandatory mask-wearing within the Miami Beach Convention Center, enforcing those standards for an event that drew 60,000 visitors presents an untenable challenge. 

The elephant in the room is that Miami Art Week coincided with the rise of Omicron, a variant that a new study says multiplies 70 times faster inside the human respiratory tract. Is the event to blame for the outbreak in New York? Maybe. But there’s also an argument to be made that New Yorkers brought it to Miami. Sadly, it seems Omicron was coming no matter what. 

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