Southampton’s Inquiry into COVID-Safety Violations at Concert Continues

Rob Rich/
The Chainsmokers concert at Nova’s Ark.

The Town of Southampton is investigating the sequence of events that led to about 150 people congregating in front of the stage during the now-controversial drive-in concert in Bridgehampton July 25, featuring the Chainsmokers. According to Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, this investigation is on two tracks, one led by the town’s public safety division, the other by the police.

“We are looking to find out how this happened,” Schneiderman said Thursday. No citations have yet been issued.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and State Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard Zucker sharply criticized the town for granting a permit for the event, held at Nova’s Ark. Cuomo called the concert “a gross violation of common sense.”

In a letter Zucker sent Schneiderman on Monday, he wrote that the charity concert, billed as the “Safe & Sound” concert “apparently involved thousands of people in close proximity, out of their vehicles, a VIP area where there was no pretense of a vehicle, and generally not adhering to social guidance.” The health department is conducting its own investigation.

“I am at a loss as to how the Town of Southampton could have issued a permit for such an event, how they believed it was legal and not an obvious public health threat,” Zucker wrote.

In response, James Burke, the town attorney, wrote that the organizers, In The Know Experiences and Invisible Noise, had agreed to a series of strict guidelines they were to follow: guests would arrive in cars, which would be parked in rows in a designated area. The guests in the cars were not allowed to leave their designated spot except to go to the bathroom, at which time a mask would be required. Each row of cars had two security guards, to enforce social distancing rules. A minimum of 64 guards were required to be on hand for the event. Organizers said they took precautions.

For most of the evening, Burke wrote, the event went smoothly. Schneiderman performed with his band, playing the drums. The CEO of Goldman Sachs, David Solomon, performing under the stage name of DJ D-Sol, was another warmup act before the Grammy-Award winning Chainsmokers took the stage. It was that last half-hour, from 10 p.m. on, that the problems began escalating, with people gathering in front of the stage. Schneiderman said he had already left.

“There was no reference to such an area in the permit application and the town did not approve any such gathering space,” Burke wrote. At that point, the police took action to peacefully “disperse the crowd.” According to Schneiderman, of the approximately 150 people who crowded together by the stage, about one third were not wearing masks. Burke concludes his letter by saying that the town is “investigating this matter and will hold the organizers accountable.”

Schneiderman said Thursday that the investigators are armed with high-quality video shot from drones overhead, which show an orderly event until 10 p.m., when the crowd in front of the stage began forming. “How was this allowed to happen?” Schneiderman asked again. The town has offered to turn all video of the event over to the health commissioner’s office, to facilitate its investigation.

He said that the people in that group need to be identified and tested for COVID-19.

Schneiderman said that the organizers are already looking at having to pay for increased police presence needed in response to the gathering.

“The governor is 100 percent right to be focusing the way that he is on making sure that people are following the guidance,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said during a press briefing on Thursday. “I also think that it’s important to keep in context here this was a charity event,” Bellone said, adding that even when the people gathered together in this VIP area, most were wearing masks.

“We should learn from that. That kind of thing can’t happen,” he said, noting that “it was a mistake to have that area.”

Bellone acknowledged that Schneiderman had taken a great deal of heat for performing at the charity event. He said while the town supervisor is “a great musician, but I guarantee the VIP section was not packed when Jay and his band were on the stage.”

With reporting by Taylor K. Vecsey

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