At least six people living in two nursing homes have died in a coronavirus outbreak that may be related to an indoor wedding that broke COVID-19 safety rules. In early November, despite restrictions that capped all Washington state weddings at 30 people, more than 300 people attended an indoor wedding in the rural town of Ritzville, Washington, The Washington Post reports. Health officials initially traced around 40 coronavirus cases back to the wedding. Now, officials have shared that some of the wedding guests were nursing home staffers who tested positive after attending, and at least six residents at the nursing homes where those wedding guests work have since died of COVID-19.
A news release from Washington’s Grant County Health District stated that because nursing home staffers care for entire units of people, it’s not possible to know at this point exactly which patients had direct contact with the staffers who attended the wedding. The Health District’s spokeswoman, Theresa Adkinson, told The Washington Post that they intend to do full contact tracing of the nursing home staffers to see if it’s possible to find a direct connection between the cases and the wedding. Four additional COVID-19 deaths at these facilities are currently under review.
The wedding took place in a “large agricultural building,” according to The Seattle Times. The event lasted for five to six hours and included food, drinks, and dancing. Masks were reportedly available for guests, but not everyone wore them. Guests came from multiple communities in and outside of Ritzville. Washington has since banned all indoor weddings and receptions, and weddings of any kind continue to be limited to 30 people.
This is just one tragic example among several superspreader events that illustrate how dangerous it can be to gather with others—especially indoors—during this pandemic. A summer Maine wedding with limited mask use was linked to 177 COVID-19 cases and seven deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In October, a Canadian cycling gym was the epicenter of a coronavirus outbreak that affected at least 69 people. The gym was following local guidelines, which required that equipment be six feet away from each other, but did not require participants to wear masks while exercising. Officials are currently bracing for a surge of infections and hospitalizations after the Thanksgiving holiday, even among record high daily infections and death rates.
Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been clear that even a few simple practices could dramatically reduce the spread of coronavirus cases, as SELF previously reported. These include wearing masks, keeping your distance from people outside your household, not spending time IRL with people who don’t live with you, and washing your hands frequently. But it also involves understanding the nuances of how this illness is most likely to spread, which is via respiratory droplets and aerosols from people who have the virus, rather than via contaminated surfaces. So, if someone is washing their hands a lot or dousing them in hand sanitizer, that’s great, but doing it while mingling maskless at an indoor wedding doesn’t make up for that risk.
Although COVID-19 vaccines are on the way, it’s critical that we keep protecting each other from this virus—especially since it will still be several months before everyone has access to the vaccine.
“We need everyone to do their part to slow the spread and flatten the curve to ensuring our health care facilities are not overwhelmed,” Grant County Health District said in their news release. “Your choice to gather with those outside your household could lead to additional cases of COVID-19 and even death. Please protect those you love, by staying home.”