A disturbing new trend has American partygoers tempting fate to see who can catch the coronavirus first.
In some cases money is being used to reel in crowds, with hosts promising a wad of cash to the first who tests positive.
Reports that infected people were deliberately going into crowds to infect others – and that healthy people actually wanted the coronavirus – baffled authorities who initially believed they were just rumours.
That’s until new COVID-19 clusters began emerging and partygoers started dying, one of whom was a 30-year-old Texas man who did not believe the virus was real.
Lying in a hospital bed, moments before his death, the patient turned to his nurse and said: “I think I made a mistake. I thought this was a hoax, but it’s not.”
That was the message communicated to the chief medical officer of Methodist Hospital Dr Jane Appleby, who made this case public to alert young revellers about the dangers of getting infected.
The fact the US is on the top with 3.3 million cases and more than 135,000 fatalities has, surprisingly, not been enough to convince many Americans that the coronavirus is real, let alone deadly.
Across the country, young people are throwing so-called COVID parties to see for themselves just how lethal the virus is.
“This is a party held by somebody diagnosed by the COVID virus and the thought is to see if the virus is real and to see if anyone gets infected,” Dr Appleby explained.
People are even paying to attend a COVID party, with some hosts requiring that they buy a ticket before showing up.
The money made from the ticket sales is given to the first person confirmed by a doctor to have the coronavirus.
In Texas, the infection rate jumped from about five per cent several weeks ago, to 22 per cent at the weekend.
Alabama councillor Sonya McKinstry said infected people are being urged to attend so others can intentionally contract the virus.
“We thought that was kind of a rumour at first. We did some research, not only do the doctors’ offices confirm it, but the state confirmed they also had the same information,” she told CNN.
The parties have made her “furious”, she said.
“Furious to the fact that something that is so serious and deadly is being taken for granted.
“Not only is it irresponsible, but you could contract the virus and take it home to your parents or grandparents.”