frustrated woman

Anime Dallas Debacle Just Shows Why In-Person Cons Are a Bad Idea Right Now

My bad for thinking it was obvious.
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About a month ago, I wrote a piece that delved into what I thought conventions would look like in 2021. Unfortunately, when writing it, I was under the impression that folks would wait until it was safe to gather before even attempting to figure out the logistics of in-person events—and when I say “safe,” I mean something along the lines of “there are vaccines out there and there has been a massive decrease in COVID-19 cases.”

Basically, when I wrote it, I assumed three things:

  1. Not a single convention would happen for the remainder of 2020. We’ve had a constant increase of cases here in the U.S., especially after Thanksgiving, so 2020 con season is over unless it’s online.
  2. Convention season 2021 wouldn’t even D R E A M of starting at the beginning of the year, and for what it’s worth, several early year conventions have either moved to 2022 or late 2021. This includes MAGFest, Ohayocon, Katsucon, Anime Milwaukee, Emerald City Comic Con, C2E2, and Naka-Kon. There are probably more, but these are the ones I’ve personally heard about.
  3. If any convention did happen in 2021, it would be because it’s actually safe to do so (see my earlier comments about what safe means), and even if it is safe, they would STILL implement things like face masks, social distancing, attendance caps, and so on. Even pre-pandemic, conventions have always been hot spots for folks getting sick (we have an entire term for it: con crud), so I would expect, even with vaccines and fewer cases, that events would run with caution for the foreseeable future.

I’m sure you can already guess that all my assumptions have been tossed into a garbage disposable, the scraps clogging up my metaphorical sink. That’s because there was, in fact, a convention that happened this last weekend.

Let’s talk about Anime Dallas, which just took place December 4–6.

First of all, let me preface this by saying that I’m coming at this as a creative who goes to conventions for work. Conventions are a business for me. I’m not looking at this from a con-goer perspective, but as someone who has been affected professionally AND financially from all these cancellations. I go to conventions either as a guest or as someone who sells my books in artist alley.

So believe me when I say that we are in no way ready for conventions to return, even if I have a closet full of inventory that is BEGGING to be sold at a show.

Had this been an event happening back when this all started, people (myself included) would’ve been more sympathetic because of the sheer panic and “WTF DO WE DO” that was going on back then. I mean, I was in the car on the way to two conventions when everything started to cancel, events having to wait for hotels/convention centers/their respective cities to give the order to shut down. Hell, the con I was on the way to already HAD people at the hotel before their city gave the shutdown order.

Arguably, this was also the case over the summer, as indicated by convention organizers who would flat out say they had to, unfortunately, wait it out.

But … it’s December.

And we know better.

The entire weekend Anime Dallas was going on, many—and I mean MANY—people took to social media to say how bad of an idea it was. This wasn’t just convention goers, but industry folks who were perplexed that a convention was going on when there has been a massive, ongoing spike in cases. After all, this was one weekend after Thanksgiving, and we’d all already been advised to not travel or have large gatherings.

But what makes the Anime Dallas situation even more frustrating is that the con chair reportedly knew better, too.

As reported by Anime News Network’s Lynzee Loveridge, not only was the con chair advised by several people to NOT hold the event, but the con chair had been exposed to someone with COVID a week prior to the event.

I just.

What?!

In Loveridge’s article, we learn that con chair John Swasey was advised to postpone the event by at least two former board members who stepped down from their positions when Swasey ignored their advice. These board members were voice actress Luci Christian and voice actor David Wald. Christian can be seen confirming her removal from the board in this comment to a fan inquiring about another event she’s taking part in that is, thankfully, online:

Meanwhile, Wald shared this on Twitter:

Loveridge’s article also points out that on the first day of the event, Swasey posted on Facebook about the safety measures being taken and reassured everyone that he, his daughter, and the rest of the staff did not have COVID. Of course, he failed to mention that he’d been exposed. That didn’t come out until Loveridge’s article yesterday. Loveridge’s article goes on to say that while he did test negative for COVID 3 days after he was exposed, CDC guidelines state that you should self-isolate for 2 weeks anyway. Here’s a snippet:

Anime Dallas convention president and chairman John Swasey confirmed with Anime News Network that he was exposed to an individual who received a positive COVID-19 test on November 26. Swasey and his daughter, who was a guest at the Anime Dallas convention, quarantined for three days according to guidance from a medical professional. Both tested negative on November 29, three days after exposure and attended the Anime Dallas event on December 4-6.

The CDC testing guidelines currently state that individuals who have been in close contact with someone who received a positive COVID-19 test should self-isolate for two weeks, even in the event of a negative test.

Swasey received a PCR test to confirm whether he was currently carrying COVID-19. However, the risk of receiving a false negative PCR test three days after exposure can be greater than 67 percent if the individual does not have symptoms, according to a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine in August. MIT Medical suggests that anyone who believes they were exposed to quarantine five to seven days prior to testing in order to protect against false negative results and the CDC states individuals should quarantine for a minimum of five days prior to testing.

So.

There’s that.

I truly didn’t think I would need to write this sort of followup to my previous article about conventions, but here we are. I guess I have to write out a list of things to keep in mind if you’re actually thinking about running an event right now.

  1. Don’t.

That’s it. End of list.

Wait, here’s another thing:

  1. Don’t. ESPECIALLY if you’ve been exposed to COVID.

All right, I’ll be more detailed because, well, I have to be. The unfortunate reality is that there are just enough people out there who feel like this isn’t a big deal. They’ve been emboldened to feel like that because of the state we’ve been in for most of the year. Let’s be honest: Our country hasn’t exactly been a shining beacon of how to handle COVID. We never properly shut down because Karen desperately wanted a soccer mom haircut. Some people are still against wearing face masks. Airports were more crowded than ever during the holidays. We offered very little financial assistance and labeled workers as being essential to attempt to make up for it.

So, when I see an Anime Dallas or a cosplayer with a bad take on why gathering for events or big photoshoots is a-ok, I sadly realize that our country created the blueprint in that sort of logic.

So here’s attempt number two at a list:

  1. If we keep having gatherings when it’s unsafe to gather, then we won’t be able to come together later, whether it’s due to there being too many cases to deal with, or, well, people dying around us.
  2. We can’t reach the point of having a solution to the pandemic if we keep spreading it around and making it bigger than it already is.
  3. When we do, eventually, have a solution, there will need to be a period of time where we allow the dust to settle. Having a vaccine and taking it doesn’t mean we instantly go back to hosting large gatherings (see my earlier comments about hoping that conventions keep up with mask-wearing, social distancing, ect. when we’re able to SAFELY gather again).
  4. You hosting a gathering when it’s not safe hurts folks who do this as a job. Much like the “essential” workers who either never stopped working or returned to work because the little financial assistance they got ran out, creatives are put in a terrible position of having to choose their health or their income when you actually have the nerve to host a convention right now. It’s easy to say “choose health,” but when it’s been nearly a year of not having the job you once relied on, it gets harder to choose yourself over your job.
  5. DON’T!

That’s all I got, and I sincerely hope I don’t have to cover this again, but trust me, I already know in my heart of hearts that I’ll have to.

(image: Shutterstock)

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Author
Image of Briana Lawrence
Briana Lawrence
Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)