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Celebrities are shamelessly throwing parties in the pandemic - and setting a dangerous example for the rest of us

Dec 5, 2020, 22:50 IST
Insider
Celebrities are throwing parties during the pandemic.DANNY MOLOSHOK/Reuters/Jacopo Raule/Getty Images
  • Celebrities have been throwing parties and going on vacation during the pandemic — and posting about it on social media.
  • Their actions are reckless despite the precautions they take, and they put those around them, including staff who have to work their events, at risk.
  • Celebrities' laissez-faire attitudes about partying sets a bad example for their followers.
  • But posting is a form of social currency and literal income for many celebrities, so they likely won't stop sharing photos of their unsafe gatherings despite the risks they pose.

Kendall Jenner turned 25 in November, celebrating with a Halloween-themed birthday party somewhere in California.

It was a large-scale and celebrity-filled event. A-list stars like Justin and Hailey Bieber, Doja Cat, The Weeknd, and assorted members of the Kardashian-Jenner clan attended the birthday bash.

Many of the attendees boldly posted photos from the party on their social media, showing off their maskless faces and physical closeness.

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You might forget we're in the middle of a pandemic based on how the stars ignored public health guidance.

Celebrities have been shamelessly throwing parties during the pandemic

Jenner isn't alone in her urge to party. Multiple celebrities have thrown lavish celebrations in recent months, even as they receive backlash for their large-scale events and as the pandemic reaches a new peak in the United States.

Kim Kardashian West hosted a celebratory trip that likely cost around $2 million in honor of her 40th birthday with 30 of her closest friends just days before Jenner's party.

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Likewise, Cardi B had a birthday party at the beginning of October, and it seems like not a day goes by without an influencer being called out for attending or throwing an event.

Kim Kardashian West celebrated her 40th birthday on a private island.Jacopo Raule / Getty Images

Nine months into the pandemic, it's well-documented that private events are one of the most common ways the coronavirus spreads, as Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told Insider.

"In a restaurant, people are six feet apart, people are wearing masks, and there are capacity restrictions going on," he said. "None of that really applies when you're having a party in your house."

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So even though they know these events are unsafe, celebrities are having parties - and posting about them on Instagram as if the virus doesn't exist.

The stars aren't documenting the precautions they're taking ahead of their events

If you look at these celebrities' Instagram posts from the parties, you'll see glamour shots: Kardashian West smiling with her siblings at a dinner, or Jenner posing with a variety of her party guests in a photo booth.

You won't see them getting their temperatures taken or receiving rapid-test results before entering an event space, nor will you see shots of them quarantining for weeks ahead of seeing their friends.

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But they're likely doing some of those things, Sonal Shah, a luxury event planner and the owner of Sonal J. Shah Event Consultants, LLC, told Insider. Shah said that temperature checks have become an industry standard since the pandemic started, and rapid tests are pretty common among wealthy party-throwers as well.

Adalja said that affordable rapid testing is being developed, but it's still relatively expensive at the moment. At the time of writing, rapid-testing stations cost a few thousand dollars to rent for an event according to Shah, which isn't much for an A-list celebrity.

"Talking about the celebrity world, what is the cost of that compared to not getting COVID-19?" Shah said. "It's very nominal for them."

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That was the case at Kendall Jenner's birthday party, as Kris Jenner later told Andy Cohen on his Sirius XM show.

"At Kendall's, everyone got tested before they walked in the door and they had to wait, you know, a half an hour until the testing was, the results were in," she said.

"We are really responsible and we make sure that everyone in our family and our closest friends are tested religiously," Kris also told Cohen. "So, you know, we do what we can, we, we try to follow the rules."

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But Kris and her children are able to "follow the rules" because of their privilege. It isn't hard for celebrities to social distance because they have access to resources most Americans don't.

For instance, Kardashian West said she asked all her party guests to quarantine for two weeks before her island getaway.

"After 2 weeks of multiple health screens and asking everyone to quarantine, I surprised my closest inner circle with a trip to a private island where we could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time," she wrote in the caption of her Instagram post about her birthday trip.

But staying home for two weeks without worrying about work, money, or food is a luxury many people can't afford.

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"It's important to remember that it is a luxury," Adalja said of social distancing, pointing to people who haven't been able to stay home at all times amid the pandemic, like essential workers.

"Even though social distancing is recommended and governments impose it, it's very difficult for people who don't have high incomes to be able to do that," Adalja added.

Although it's easy for celebrities to minimize their risks because of their resources, that isn't the case for the majority of people

Most Americans don't have thousands of dollars to spend on a large venue that allows for social distancing or a rapid-testing station, and many also aren't able to stay home to keep their risk of the virus low on a daily basis - including the events staff working these high-profile events.

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In the photos from Kendall's party, it appeared no one was wearing a mask save for people who needed them for their costumes and a member of the waitstaff who held her cake for her while she blew out the candles.

In a video of the incident, you can see him try to lean away from Jenner as she blows air into his face.

Although Kris confirmed the attendees were tested ahead of entering the event, rapid tests are only 70 to 80% effective and can often produce false-negative results, meaning that the waiter and every other worker at Kendall's party could have been in danger.

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Representatives for Kendall did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment on the event.

Kardashian West posted a similar photo from her party, in which her loved ones ate and drank with abandon while masked waiters served the group.

Shah told Insider it's not uncommon to see event staff taking precautions while partygoers don't at the moment, as it doesn't feel fun for guests to adhere to public health guidelines while they party.

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"If you're invited to someone's party, you don't want to be the only person that's wearing a mask and a face shield," Shah said.

The burden of safety then falls to staff, leading to a dystopian imbalance in which workers risk their lives to give the well-off a chance to relax.

Meanwhile, celebrities have massive influence over their social-media followers

Whether they intend to be or not, celebrities are often aspirational role models for their fans.

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"We do tend to be influenced in terms of our attitudes and behavioral choices by role models or celebrities," T. Makana Chock, a communications professor at Syracuse University and media psychologist, told Insider.

"It can have an impact on people's beliefs about what is appropriate, what's effective, and the overall message they may be receiving," she added.

So seeing a celebrity you admire post photos of themselves wearing a mask or social distancing can reinforce for you that it's the right thing to do.

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But on the flip side, if a celebrity is sending mixed messages - like posting a photo of themselves in a mask and then another where they're hugging friends at a crowded party - that can be confusing for the follower or fan.

"That can actually be really problematic because it raises concerns about the credibility of the message on the whole really," Chock said.

The celebrity would know they had taken precautions leading up to the party, but the follower would just be left with the idea that steps like social distancing and wearing a mask don't actually matter.

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But celebrities aren't going to stop posting about their parties - even if they know they're doing something wrong

For the most part, celebrities aren't being caught throwing parties by lurking paparazzi. Instead, they're willingly posting photos of themselves doing something risky.

"There were problems pre-social media where the media would catch you doing something you shouldn't do," Chock told Insider. "But what we're seeing now is sort of a self-inflicted injury where you post photographs of yourself doing something you shouldn't do, which is a little different."

She said that celebrities are willingly sharing controversial images of themselves for a few reasons. First, it's just a norm of modern fame that you share what you're doing, particularly if you're an influencer or reality star.

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"Social media has created an expectation above and beyond what used to be just gossip or celebrity gossip that you display your personal life," she added.

Taking pictures is a norm of fame.Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Chock also pointed out that social media has come to be an important form of income for celebrities.

"There's a financial basis for this as well, particularly among social-media influencers," she said. Influencers rely on Instagram and other platforms for money, so they literally can't afford not to share photos of themselves.

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Experts are urging celebrities to think carefully about what they post

It's unrealistic to expect famous people to stop sharing photos of themselves as the pandemic rages on in the US. But Chock urges celebrities to think carefully about the kinds of pictures they choose to share.

Adalja echoed her concerns, and he added that everyone should be thoughtful about the activities they share on social media.

"When anybody is advertising how much they're evading the factor of the pandemic, I think it's bad," he said. "And especially if it's someone that has a larger voice, it sends a dangerous message that it's OK to not think about this pandemic or that you don't need to take special actions or precautions to prevent you from spreading or acquiring the virus."

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Chock advised celebrities to "think about the impact of every post, particularly as it relates to the potential risks."

At the end of the day, public shame won't be enough to stop celebrities from having ill-advised parties. But if they care for their fans at all, they'll think twice before they post a picture of a group of unmasked people with no context. It could literally save their fans' lives.

Representatives for Kris Jenner and Kim Kardashian West declined to comment when contacted by Insider for this article. Representatives for Cardi B did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

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