Florida gang ‘Covid-19 parties’ cause case spike concerns

US: Gangs in Florida are hosting parties in vacation rental properties for up to 400 people, known as ‘Covid-19 parties’, with the intention to spread the coronavirus among themselves, a state sheriff has claimed. 

Osceola County sheriff Russ Gibson said residents are “afraid” after his office received more than 600 noise complaints since March due to neighbourhood disruption caused by large-scale parties attended by hundreds of people. He added that his force would be stepping up patrols in areas where parties were happening more frequently in order to disperse revellers as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Speaking to Click Orlando, Gibson said: “A lot of times, we’ve been finding out that there are people here that are unsavoury people that you wouldn’t want in your neighbourhoods. There are some gangs that are renting these houses and they’re coming here to Osceola County – this is something that we have to protect our residents with.

“They’re actually getting together and they’re trying to mingle to potentially spread the virus amongst each other. They’re being referred to, from what I’m being told, as Covid-19 parties where they’re actually getting together and they’re trying to mingle to potentially spread the virus amongst each other if they’re asymptomatic or whatever the case might be,” he added.

The vacation rental properties which are being targeted to hold Covid-19 parties are typically in gated housing developments which are usually very quiet, according to the sheriff, and as a result, neighbours are “living a life of terror”.

Footage from police helicopters showed partygoers congregating in the street to dance, while cars were being parked across streets, leading to street blockages and traffic gridlocks earlier this month.

Michael Goldin, director of business development at noise monitoring company NoiseAware, said: “The Covid house party is a very real and very disturbing trend. With bars and clubs, concerts and sporting events shut or heavily restricted, I’m afraid this trend of using rentals as a gathering place isn’t going to slow any time soon.

“We’ve seen that as many as one in four properties has had an issue with this since the lockdown began in March,” he added.

Florida has been one of the states with the highest infection rates in the United States; the country which has also seen the highest number of cases and deaths in the world.

The latest statistics from The New York Times’ database shows that Osceola County has had 6,479 positive cases of Covid-19 and 43 deaths, while Florida itself has recorded more than 370,000 confirmed virus cases and 5,205 deaths. Over the last 24 hours, Florida recorded the biggest increase in new cases [10,347], reporting its sixth straight day of more than 10,000 cases.

Those alarming revelations have led Gibson to believe that the Covid-19 parties are “out of control” and leading to a sharp rise in infections.

He said: “The problem is when you have this and you take it back home to a parent or grandparent, and unknowingly pass that virus on to them, and potentially end their life. It’s just not worth it and I think sometimes our young folks are just thinking about the moment.”

In April, FR24 News reported that a man was fatally shot during one of these house parties and a 20-year-old man was taken into custody.

Florida initially banned short-term rental operations in March, leading to outrage from industry professionals who claimed it was unfair to keep rentals shut while hotels were allowed to remain open. The backlash caused governor Ron DeSantis to reverse the decision in mid-May for the first phase of the state’s reopening.

Then last week, a second closure of short-term rentals, as well as restaurants, gyms and fitness centres, in Miami Beach came into effect after a resurgence in new cases was confirmed.