Dallas County is under a red level warning risk, restaurants have been required to reduce capacity and bars were closed after more than 15% of local hospital beds were filled with COVID-19 patients for more than seven straight days. None of that stopped Anime Dallas from holding its annual convention last weekend under mandatory safety requirements.
It also didn't stop voice actor and convention chairman and founder John Swasey from attending, even though he was exposed to someone with the virus.
Swasey told the Anime News Network (ANN) that he and his daughter came into contact with an infected person on Nov. 26, a little over a week before the Anime Dallas convention was scheduled to start at the Hyatt Regency DFW hotel.
Convention officials did not return our request for comment but defended their decision to hold the convention on its Facebook page. The post released on the opening day of the convention laid out guidelines such as requiring all attendees to wear masks and undergo temperature tests at the registration desk.
The convention's website also announced they would limit attendance to 800 people for the entire weekend and 400 people per day, offer seating spaced at 6 feet apart and provide and require the use of hand sanitizing stations before entering an open space "including our artist alley, dealers room and game room."
According to an executive order issued by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that was revised on Friday, Dec. 4, "People may not be in groups larger than 10 and must maintain six feet of social distancing from those not in their group."
"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," Swasey wrote on the con's Facebook page on Friday, Dec. 4. "Many top convention staff have been tested for coronavirus the week prior to the convention and have received negative results as well."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website notes that testing only ensures a clean bill of health from COVID at the time of the testing since symptoms can develop days later. The CDC also advises people who are exposed to the virus to quarantine at home for 14 days from the date of the exposure. Swasey and his daughter could only have quarantined for a week, according to ANN.
"It seems very cavalier and insensitive," says Taffeta Darling, a Dallas-based cosplayer and co-host of The Fangirls of Dallas podcast, who used to regularly attend several area fan conventions before the first shutdown order back in March started — the same weekend as the start of the All-Con gathering. "They could have easily handled it in a better way and it's disappointing."
Darling was one of several people who expressed outrage on Anime Dallas' Facebook page at the decision to hold the event. Swasey responded to the criticism saying he and the event's organizers took several steps to ensure the safety of its participants with mask requirements, temperature checks and other measures.
He also noted that he didn't want to put the convention's vendors and participants at any great financial risk or deprive groups like the North Texas Food Bank which receive donations from the event.
"We've seen significant vitriol online about attending Anime Dallas," Swasey wrote. "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."
Darling says she understands how vendors and convention organizers and attendees have been decimated by the coronavirus but feels it would have been better if they erred more on the side of caution.
"I know we all have to make a buck, but there's better ways it could have been handled," Darling says. "For them to say they're doing it for the community, it doesn't feel that way. They could have asked the community for input. Most people I know were mortified."
Swasey and convention officials have not responded to our requests for comment.
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