Curtis Givens – the host of the annual “All Black Affair” – said what many are labeling a COVID-19 super-spreader event was a well-thought-out gathering committed to following local safety protocols.
In an interview with The New Tri-State Defender, Givens said the Saturday night event at the In Love Memphis night club in Hickory Hill took an unexpected turn after its hosts began shutting it down to comply with a mandated 10 p.m. close.
Social media has been flooded with a video from event – called the All Black Affair because that’s the designated clothing color scheme. And while many in it were wearing masks and practicing some version social distancing, many others were not.
“That video you saw was toward the end when everybody decided to come into the bubble (set up outside the club) because we had closed down. And no, the video doesn’t look good, but in no way did we have it like that all night.”
Concern about the event, which caters to a young crowd, is widespread, with area health officials and elected officials weighing in on through various mediums. Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris posted this:
“We are in the midst of a surge in COVID-19 cases. It would be hard to think of a worse time to let our guard down. I implore attendees to get tested and, above all, avoid seeing older relatives until they are certain that they are not carrying COVID-19.”
Several calls on Monday From The New Tri-State Defender to Shelby County Health Department Medical Director Bruce Randolph went unanswered. Messages were left on voicemail requesting a return call.
An email exchange with Health Department Communications Director Joan Carr also requested a phone interview with Randolph. Carr said that he was not available for comment about Saturday’s gathering.
Carr also said a press statement would be released, but it had not been made available by the deadline for posting this story.
Givens said safety precautions are standard and taken seriously at In Love “even when COVID was not going on. … In this event, it was well thought out.”
That thinking, he said, included an outside courtyard of about 5,000 square feet, a tent of about 7,500 square feet and a patio to facilitate social distancing.
“Throughout the night, we made sure people had masks on coming through the door. We had signs around saying please wear your masks at all times,” he said, emphasizing that a DJ announced every 15 minutes that attendees should keep their masks up if they were not eating or drinking.
“Everything was going great. Everybody was having a good time; everybody was pretty much following the rules. At 9:50, my manager went around to the DJs in the courtyard and the patio and In Love and told them they had to shut it down because we got to close at what, 10 o’clock. We want to follow the rules (according to the latest issued Shelby County Health Department restrictions to combat the spread of the pandemic).”
When those other areas closed, the bubble (the tent area) was “still kind of going” because it was set to shut down right at 10 p.m., Givens said.
“Everybody left out of every other area … and just came into the bubble at one time and it caused our problem. There was no music playing in the other areas and, you know, music attracts people.”
Givens said Health Department representatives came to the club at 9:30 p.m. and gave no indication of any violations.
“They told us to keep making the announcement (to) pull your mask up; they wanted to make sure people were not standing at the bars. So, we were complying.”
Moving to amplify on what happened after that, Givens said if FedExForum attendance was limited to about 5,000 of its near 19,000-person capacity, there still would be a problem if people exited at about the same time, pausing to talk to each other.
“That’s what happened in this case,” Givens said. “When the music shut down in the other three parts of the party, everybody had to walk past the bubble to get out. And by the music still going in there between 9:50 and 10 o’clock, everybody kind of came inside the bubble.
Givens said about 10 Health Department representatives, including those who were at In Love on Saturday night, came back on Sunday “to see what happened. When I walked them through what happened they said, ‘We see how that happened.’
“I was truthful, honest. They were there at 9:30 (Saturday night). If something was wrong, they would have said something.”
Referencing his history, Givens said, “People know I ain’t got no bad intentions to try and harm nobody. I’m not no different than Walmart or Home Depot. Thousands of people go into these places every day and ain’t nobody saying two words. …
“At the end of the day, we gonna go all the way out to follow all of the protocols,” he said. “We can’t make people have their masks on the whole time. All of us can admit that no matter what we are doing, they say, ‘keep your masks on at all times,’ we don’t; because you can’t hardly breathe. You don’t; that’s just the truth.”
From his point of view, Givens is adamant that he “did the right thing,” including shutting down at the prescribed time and creating social-distancing room.
“But I’ve still got people that got to make a living. But we gonna go about it the right way as much as we can. What’s different from what we do and what big companies do? Think about, people go into Kroger every day, they’re touching on baskets, boxes, food. Ain’t nobody say nothing. … I mean, c’mon man.”
On Monday, the Health Department reported 283 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths as they, local hospitals and others with frontline roles in combatting the pandemic brace for the impact of the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Tests in 5-7 days are projected to reveal the real picture of holiday spread.
The new COVID-19 numbers bring Shelby County’s grand total to 48,105 cases, with 661 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
Risky behavior has been blamed for the continuing rise in cases. Health Department officials have said individuals between the ages of 25-34 account for 21 percent of new cases. About 61 percent of those testing positive are under 44 years of age.
Of the total cases reported in Shelby County, 55 percent have been African Americans. Consistently, 64 percent of the total deaths have been African Americans.
(Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell and Dalisia Brye contributed to this story)