‘Covid Conga Line’ Aftermath: One Infected and a Suspended Liquor License


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A video of people without masks dancing in a conga line at a Republican club’s holiday party in Queens drew swift condemnation after it was posted on social media last week.

At the time, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that “Covid conga lines are not smart,” and the State Liquor Authority launched an investigation into Il Bacco, the Italian restaurant in Little Neck where the party was held.

Now at least one person who attended the party has been hospitalized with the coronavirus, and the restaurant’s liquor license has been suspended indefinitely.

The party was thrown by the Whitestone Republican Club on Dec. 9, days before Mr. Cuomo closed indoor dining, and was attended by several dozen people. Most of them did not appear to be wearing masks in the video, despite weeks of official warnings about the danger of holiday gatherings as coronavirus hospitalizations soared in New York.

Matt Binder, a journalist, posted video of the conga line on Twitter on Dec. 21, and an outpouring of criticism from officials and the public soon followed.

The club responded with a defiant tone.

“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,” said a statement on the club’s Facebook page on Dec. 22. “This is for some reason controversial to the people who believe it’s their job to tell us all what to do.”

One of the people at the party was James Trent, the board chairman of the Queens Village Republican Club, who was later hospitalized after he recognized Covid symptoms.

Thomas Paladino, the son and campaign strategy director for Vickie Paladino, the president of the Whitestone Republican Club and a City Council candidate, confirmed that Mr. Trent had been hospitalized with the virus.

Mr. Paladino said that Mr. Trent was doing well and was expected to be released from a hospital in Nassau County on Thursday.

As “an older person who shows a positive Covid test, they’re likely going to admit you,” Mr. Paladino said on Thursday.

Mr. Trent told The Queens Daily Eagle, which on Wednesday first reported his hospitalization, that he had tried to behave carefully.

“I wasn’t on the conga line,” Mr. Trent said. “I ate by myself. I don’t know how I got this.”

The Whitestone Republican Club wished Mr. Trent “a speedy recovery,” adding that it understood that “his hospitalization was purely precautionary.”

“Whether he contracted the virus at our event, his club’s holiday party held a few days prior, or in the normal course of life will likely never be known,” the club said in a statement on its Facebook page on Thursday.

Mr. Paladino said that he had seen news reports that other partygoers had tested positive but that “as far as I know there really hasn’t been anybody else” sickened by the virus.

“I can tell you that I did not wear a mask the entire evening, I had several conversations with Jim Trent up close, and I am fine,” Mr. Paladino said, noting that he had not been tested for the coronavirus since the party. (The virus can be carried and spread by people who are asymptomatic.)

Gary Holmes, a spokesman for New York State’s Department of Health, said that the city would lead any potential coronavirus cluster investigations into the incident.

Tinatin Japaridze, the press secretary for New York City’s testing and tracing program, said that she could not reveal details about specific cases of the coronavirus because of patient confidentiality rules, but that the agency would be looking into the matter, as it does for all instances where the virus might have spread.

Mr. Paladino said that the club and the restaurant had taken precautions — the party was held on two different floors, everyone was given a mask and hand sanitizer was readily available — but that he and the rest of the partygoers were not “mask police.”

The State Liquor Authority began an investigation into Il Bacco on Dec. 23, two days after the video of the party surfaced online.

William Crowley, a spokesman for the authority, said that the investigation uncovered several violations, including employees not wearing masks properly and patrons dining in a fully enclosed rooftop structure.

“Investigators found flagrant violations of indoor dining regulations and existing health safety and Alcoholic Beverage Control laws, while verifying the maskless party depicted in the video did in fact occur,” Mr. Crowley said in a statement. “This summary suspension should send a strong message that we have zero tolerance for establishments that put New Yorkers’ health at risk.”

Nobody answered several telephone calls to Il Bacco on Wednesday and Thursday.

“We are currently closed until indoor dining resumes,” said an outgoing message on the restaurant’s voice mail. “We miss you and cannot wait to serve you again.”

Tina Maria Oppedisano, Il Bacco’s manager, and her father Joe, the restaurants’ owner, were part of a group that sued Mayor Bill de Blasio and the governor over closing indoor dining during the summer. She has remained critical of restaurant restrictions.

“I don’t understand why we can’t just conduct our business,” Ms. Oppedisano told The New York Times in December.

Potentially risky parties are nothing new during the pandemic, and large gatherings that could become so-called superspreader events have created consternation around the region.

Democrats and Republicans alike have been criticized for failing to abide by coronavirus precautions at events like a birthday party for a Democratic power broker in Brooklyn and a New York Young Republican gala in Jersey City, N.J.

New York and New Jersey officials did not confirm whether any positive test results for the coronavirus were connected to either event.

Mr. Paladino said that the club had not been investigated, adding that “what’s going on with Il Bacco is terrible.”

“We feel terribly about the situation they have been put in by the state,” he said.

Asked whether he thought the club’s actions were responsible for Il Bacco losing its liquor license, Mr. Paladino said that Mr. Cuomo’s rules were so strict, it was almost inevitable.

“If it wasn’t us, it would have been someone else,” he said.

The New York Times


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