The Osceola County sheriff's office has received over 600 noise complaints over the past months regarding so-called 'COVID-19 Parties' that usually take place at vacation rental homes with the aim of spreading the virus among attendees, Sherriff Russ Gibson revealed to local TV news channel Click Orlando, an affiliate of CBS.
The sheriff asserted that his offices have received complaints about the parties, reportedly attended by “unsavory” residents, since March, and vowed to take action regarding the gatherings which are believed to be contributing to the COVID-19 spike in the county.
“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,” Gibson said on Friday.
According to the TV station, the number of attendees at the so-called COVID-19 parties range from 50 to 400 people. The gatherings are said to sporadically end in violence and are dispersed by sheriff's deputies when discovered.
Helicopter footage from a purported COVID-19 party, held in May, features dozens of vehicles blocking the road of a residential community while attendees dance in the middle of an intersection.
“Last week someone, some folks in the crowd, threw some fireworks at the deputies that were there. They did the right thing, they backed out, they waited for extra resources to arrive and then we went in and took care of the party,” the sherriff said. “We dispersed it.”
Gibson said that a gun was recovered at that same COVID-19 party and that shootings had taken place as well. The sheriff claimed that the parties are attended by gang members who rent multiple nearby vacation rental properties, specifically in three gated housing developments, to use them for the gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Well, a lot of times, we’ve been finding out that there are people here that are unsavory people that you wouldn’t want in your neighborhoods. There are some gangs, that are renting these houses, and they’re coming here to Osceola County. And this is something that we have to protect our residents with,” Gibson said.
He suggested that some attendees come from other parts of central Florida.
Gibson stated that the gatherings would not only affect those people attending, but it would also endanger the lives of older members of their families in the following days or weeks.
“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 you have to think beyond the moment. And I think sometimes our young folks are just thinking about the moment,” Gibson said.
As of Saturday, coronavirus infections in Florida had topped 327,000, including 11,466 cases registered over the past 24 hours alone. The death toll in the state has reached a minimum of 4,894.
The overall number of COVID-19 cases in the US has topped 3.68 million, with a record daily increase of over 75,000 cases. The death toll jumped by 936 on Saturday, pushing the tally to 139,661, according to The New York Times.