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Even as COVID-19 surges, Triller planned a red carpet party in a Hollywood Hills mansion

Triller CEO Mike Lu sits for a portrait at Triller's office in Century City.
Triller Chief Executive Mike Lu sits for a portrait in his office in Century City.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

It was billed as a red carpet party for influencers at a Hollywood Hills mansion.

Triller, an L.A.-based company that operates a video sharing app that competes with TikTok, planned to host a private launch party Thursday for Irvine-based beauty products company UVé Beauty. The party was described as an “evening of glitz and glamour,” with “light bites, pampering, and live music,” according to an invitation reviewed by The Times.

At the six-bedroom, 9,800-square-foot, multimillion-dollar home featuring an infinity pool, guests would be treated to mini-makeovers using antimicrobial products after strolling on a red carpet, according to the invite. Paraffin hand masks and massages would also be available, sponsored by Corona Del Mar-based Facial Lounge, the invite stated.

“Social media star and DJ Charly Jordan,” the invite added, “will be spinning tunes as guests sip custom cocktails, snap Insta-worthy pics in the Triller photo booth, and eat sweet treats.”

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Coming at a time of rising coronavirus infections and hospitalizations, the planned party raised alarm among county health officials who said it had the potential to be super-spreader event, in which a large number of people could become infected with the highly contagious coronavirus.

A cropped version of a launch party advertisement poster for Nov. 19, 2020, sponsored by Uvé and Triller.
A cropped version of a launch party advertisement poster for Nov. 19, 2020, sponsored by Uvé and Triller.

L.A. County is at risk of needing a new stay-at-home order should daily coronavirus cases continue their unprecedented rate of increase. Daily coronavirus cases in L.A. County have tripled in the last month, while hospitalizations have jumped by 70%. Health officials on Wednesday warned the county is now again at risk of running out of hospital and intensive care unit beds if the surge does not abate.

“This is in complete violation of the Health Officer Order and irresponsible,” the L.A. County Department of Public Health said in a statement. “Anyone hosting a super-spreader event at this time not only risks the health and well-being of county residents but also bears responsibility for additional restrictions the county will need to impose if cases keep rising.”

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After The Times inquired about the party, Triller initially issued a statement saying it was “unaware” of the Thursday event. Later, the company acknowledged there had been plans but said the event was being canceled.

“There was a previously planned outdoor gathering for a brand partner that followed all COVID-19 regulations, which included rapid testing at the door, six people in attendance at once, and cleaning crews every hour. It was RSVP only and has since been cancelled due to new COVID-19 guidelines.”

The company added that it hosted a small dinner party in the Hollywood Hills that “followed all COVID-19 rules and regulations, but we can’t imagine that anyone would be concerned with that. The dinner was more distanced and included less people than dining in a restaurant.”

On Thursday, UVé Beauty said the party was still on but would move to a nearby location. Triller said it is no longer involved with Thursday’s event.

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“In working with Triller, we sought out to host a very intimate and private gathering to introduce our products to beauty industry leaders, media, and lifestyle influencers who are equally excited about how UVé Beauty is revolutionizing the industry,” the company said in a statement. “Not only do we have a very limited and staggered guest list, but all attendees will arrive at different times and undergo rapid COVID-19 testing upon arrival administered by registered nurses before being approved for entry. Masks will also be required at all times. The launch event will be exclusively outdoors, and abides by all county and nationwide standards to ensure the well-being of our guests.”

On Thursday, L.A. County recorded more than 5,000 cases, the most the county has seen on any one day since the pandemic began.

California bans most large gatherings, with only a few exceptions, such as for outdoor political protests and religious services. In L.A. County, smaller gatherings must be held outdoors involving only people from up to three households for no more than two hours, with people wearing masks and staying six feet apart from one another. Starting Friday, the gatherings will be capped at no more than 15 participants.

“An event such as this is definitely not in the letter or spirit of the current regulations,” said Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, medical epidemiologist and infectious-diseases expert at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. If large numbers of people from different households do attend, that “would potentially be an ideal setting for a super-spreader event in which large numbers of people could become infected with COVID-19.”

The pandemic can be easily spread by infected people who are highly contagious yet show no signs of illness. The virus responsible for the world’s worst pandemic in a century can spread easily indoors from coughing, talking and even breathing.

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The invite, sent to social media influencers, said that “rapid COVID-19 tests will be administered to attendees upon arrival.”

But rapid coronavirus tests should not be used to give would-be partygoers a pass to socialize in large groups without masks, experts say.

Rapid saliva tests are more inaccurate than tests that need laboratory analysis of nasal samples, which can take a day or two to get results, said Kim-Farley, a former senior official with the L.A. County Department of Public Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The strategy of using rapid tests as a pass to socialize without masks and social distancing has failed before, notably in the super-spreading incident at the White House’s Rose Garden ceremony to formally introduce President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

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“It’s a bad look for our industry,” said one executive who works with brands who declined to be named to protect business relationships. “It’s a bad look for trust, where really in the world of influence, we should be leading from the front, in terms of doing things that show integrity.”

Triller has been working to become a bigger player in social video and a successor to TikTok. When TikTok’s future looked bleak in the U.S., Triller received a boost, skyrocketing to No.1 in the App Store on Aug. 1. Since then, its ranking has plummeted to 596 as of Tuesday, according to San Francisco app analytics firm App Annie.

Triller is majority-owned by Proxima Media, Ryan Kavanaugh’s investment company. Kavanaugh was once the head of mini-studio Relativity Media, which first filed for bankruptcy in 2015.

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Triller has poached some of TikTok’s biggest stars to post content on its platform, including Josh Richards, who joined as chief strategy officer and an investor. Richards said he left TikTok because of security concerns. Other Triller users include President Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr.

The Trump administration has tried to ban TikTok based on security concerns about its parent company’s ties to China. TikTok said it has not and will not give U.S. user data to the Chinese government, and that the information is stored in the U.S. and backed up in Singapore.

Some social media influencers have been criticized for throwing parties amid the pandemic. A pair of social media stars, Bryce Hall and Blake Gray, who rose to internet fame largely on the video-sharing app TikTok, were both charged with misdemeanors in August for rowdy parties at a house on Appian Way in the Hollywood Hills; city officials later cut off electric service to the home as punishment for repeated large gatherings at the home.

Even gatherings of a few dozen people can have deadly consequences. There were only 55 guests who attended a wedding reception at an inn in Millinocket, Maine, celebrating a couple traveling from California. While one of those guests arrived with a coronavirus infection, over the next few weeks, the virus spread to 176 other people and sparked outbreaks at a county jail and a long-term care facility.

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A total of seven people died from the outbreak — none of whom attended the original wedding reception. Six of them — all at least 60 years old — lived in the long-term care center, where an employee was believed to be infected by a family member who attended the wedding reception.

Social gatherings are believed to be a big reason for the latest explosion in coronavirus cases, and it’s young adults that are spreading the virus the fastest. Daily coronavirus case rates among adults in L.A. County between the ages of 18 to 45 have roughly doubled in the last month, an acceleration which health officials called “alarming.”


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