Coronapalooza 2020, Texas Edition: Anime Dallas Attendees Likely Exposed

A pandemic that’s killed more than 280,000 Americans – currently causing more deaths daily than the entire loss of life from 9/11 – is still raging across the country, but for some reason, Anime Dallas went ahead with events over the weekend. The irresponsibility is staggering, and many attendees were very likely exposed to the virus as a result of this terrible decision.

Anime DallasAnime Dallas is a moderate-sized anime convention, averaging about 4000 attendees annually and features several decently well-known guests every year. It’s not a household name convention nationally, like Anime Expo or Anime NYC, but is still a staple local con like most major cities across the United States tend to have. Despite being a community based local convention, the people who organized the con don’t seem to care much about their local community. Both statistics and several staff member’s recent exposure to positive cases means that attendees were likely exposed over the weekend, but they are digging their heels in and defending their choice to go ahead with the con.

Let’s start off by looking at just the statistics alone before we even get to the more likely confirmed exposure. The convention states that they had approximately 700-800 attendees this weekend, and according to some statistical models a gathering of this size has more than a 99% chance of having at least one person in attendance with COVID-19.  Texas has seen more than 23,000 COVID-19 related deaths since the pandemic began, with over 1600 of them within Dallas County alone. Approximately 1 in 30 Texans have tested positive for the virus since it began in March, and hospitals are near capacity.  

Additionally, COVID cases are expected to spike in the next couple of weeks due to Thanksgiving. Anecdotally, I’m already seeing people in my own circles (whom I warned against gathering) having COVID scares after their families gathered for the holiday. I’m pretty hardcore about urging my friends to not attend gatherings, yet I still know three people who were exposed during Thanksgiving.

Things aren’t good, you guys. And yet? Anime Dallas happened.

Now let’s focus specifically on what we know about Anime Dallas and its attendees. Do we know for sure that someone at this event was positive for the coronavirus? No. We don’t. A 99%+ chance is pretty solid, but the event could have been lucky and fallen into the less than 1% chance of not having any infected attendees. But we do know the president and guests were exposed to COVID-19 just a week prior to the event. And we know they didn’t follow CDC guidelines regarding quarantining after exposure.

Per Anime News Network:

[President] Swasey received a PCR test to confirm whether he was currently carrying COVID-19. However, the risk of receiving a false negative PCR test three days after exposure can be greater than 67 percent if the individual does not have symptoms, according to a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine in August. MIT Medical suggests that anyone who believes they were exposed to quarantine five to seven days prior to testing in order to protect against false negative results and the CDC states individuals should quarantine for a minimum of five days prior to testing.

As the president of the convention, I suspect he had a lot of contact with guests during the event.  I’ve hung out with event organizers at cons before, and they are everywhere. This was horribly irresponsible of him. They seem to have had the test done fairly early after exposure, so he can’t say with certainty that they aren’t infected with the virus. They attended the convention while still in the incubation period and could have become contagious at any time during the event. Additionally, the PCR tests are unreliable, so even a negative test doesn’t mean too much.

So what does the convention do in response to the very valid backlash they are getting? They posted pictures of temperature screenings on their Facebook page, but that does very little to assure us that the event was safe. Approximately 1 in 5 cases are asymptomatic, but still able to shed the virus and spread it to others. Additionally, bypassing temperature screens is fairly easy with simple over-the-counter pain killers, so they don’t even need to be asymptomatic to get past this screening. Not everyone who is sick gets a fever anyway, even if they display some of the other symptoms of the illness at the time.

I appreciate the attempt to have safety checks in place. Temperature screenings, mask wearing, frequent hand washing, and social distancing are all tools we can use to reduce the risk of spread. These tools should be put in place for necessary outings like grocery or other essential supply shopping, doctor visits, and essential work. It shouldn’t be used to pretend that non-essential activities, such as a convention, are suddenly safe to attend. Non-essential activities should not be happening in most of the United States right now, and no matter how hard you try to sell an anime convention as being ‘good for mental health,’ it’s still not essential.

President John Swasey posted the following statement on Facebook (abbreviated for length) in defense of the decision:

For your information, many of our guests, including me (our president) and my daughter who is also attending as a guest as well, received negative COVID-19 test results before the event; we don’t have COVID. Many top convention staff have been tested for coronavirus the week prior to the convention and have received negative results as well.

If you’ve seen the photos from this weekend, you’ll see higher mask compliance than any local store or restaurant. We’re very serious about being safe.

The reality of the current situation is that actors, artists, and vendors are hurting because of events and conventions shutting down across the country. They’re hurting deeply. Many of them may be evicted once the eviction moratorium ends in January. Many are running out of funds and can’t pay their bills. We are holding Anime Dallas this weekend in order to help provide support for them.

We’ve seen significant vitriol online about attending Anime Dallas. We’re so disheartened to see that. This show has never been about profit. Every year we are raising money for charity. Our event is about bringing some security and revenue to these vendors, artists, and actors. Our event is also about community. This community means very much to us. Anime has been our job and our livelihood for a long time for many of us.

In regards to suggestions to take the convention virtual, online conventions have resulted in less than 10% of the income for artists and vendors. Online conventions can not replace the experience and community that can be found at in-person conventions.

We believe the Corona virus is real and dangerous. That’s why Anime Dallas has highly enforced mask adherence. That’s why we require social distancing in all event rooms. That’s why we do temperature checks at badge pickup. That’s why we have seating restrictions. That’s why we enforce social distancing.

I want you all to have a safe, fun time at Anime Dallas. If you don’t feel safe coming, we’re absolutely prepared to refund your pass. We can see you another time or at another event. That’s okay!!

But for those who struggle at home without their con friends, for those who are vendors and need to pay their bills, for those who can’t exist without this community, that’s why we put on this event,

So thank you for understanding why we’re putting on an event for this community. For being reasonable about everyone’s need to be here in some way. And for being part of the anime community.

There’s a lot to unpack here. I’ve already outlined how their testing wasn’t done properly after exposure, and that the precautions put in place should only be a stopgap so that essential activities can continue, so to see both of these used for justification is infuriating. The statement that they ‘don’t have COVID’ is infuriating, because they can’t possibly know that with how they supposedly performed their test. 

But then we get to the part that tugs at my heartstrings: vendors and artists. While I’m not entirely sure where the statistic comes from that online events result in only 10% of vendors’ normal income, I wouldn’t exactly doubt that this is accurate. And that’s incredibly tragic. However, with only 700-800 attendees out of their normal 4,000, it’s already less than 20% of their normal attendance numbers anyway. 

We could all do better to support vendors and artists in these trying times, and I highly encourage anyone who is still employed to support these communities. But holding a convention that could likely become a superspreader event is not the best way to support this community. You will simply have a bunch of sick vendors who will take it home and spread it around, resulting in even more lost income and likely a huge loss of life. How is that supportive of them?

In regards to those who miss their anime families and ‘can’t exist without this community,’ look, I get it. I, too, would like to get back to normal. The conventions I attend annually – SDCC, KawaiiKon, Comic Con Honolulu – were all cancelled. I also had to cancel trips to a sports event and to visit my partner and her family for Thanksgiving. My mental health has been extremely poor as a result of this and I miss my friends dearly. 

We are all going through this. We all have to make sacrifices. We are all suffering from this dramatic life change that’s been thrust upon us. It’s horrible. But we need to batten down the hatches and sit tight until a vaccine can be distributed. We can’t keep allowing things like this to happen.

The convention attending crowd on social media has reacted swiftly and harshly in response to the event, basically insinuating that the convention and anyone who attended it are dead to them.

Additionally, people involved with the convention itself have also taken to social media to discuss the event.

So what do we do now? Anime Dallas is over, and they wouldn’t have listened to us anyway as the Facebook post from the convention staff seems to indicate. But we can continue to be vocal about our displeasure over the event, decline to go to any future cons hosted by this specific group of people, and talk to and/or unfriend those in our circle who made this decision (these are your friends, so how far you want to take that is up to you) as many of the social media posts above have done. 

We need to have a zero-tolerance policy for those who place their own desires to be social above public safety. If any convention organizers are still considering going ahead prior to a vaccine being distributed, or any fellow con-goers are considering attending one before then, they can look at the backlash this event got and brace themselves accordingly. This is a decision that will give you a reputation for a lifetime. It could destroy your convention brand, or your friend circle. And, more importantly, it can kill people. You’ll need to be able to live (if you survive) with those consequences. Hope the cosplay karaoke was worth it.

Author: Angel Wilson

Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.

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