Despite monthslong efforts to curb public gatherings, health officials across the country still report new coronavirus outbreaks linked to large weddings, including a recent one in Washington state that drew more than 300 people.
Health officials in Grant County said Monday they are working to notify hundreds who attended the superspreader event near Ritzville, southwest of Spokane, of their need to self-quarantine for two weeks as cases linked to the Nov. 7 nuptials continue to rise.
As of Tuesday evening, nearly 40 people who attended the wedding have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county. Those cases, in turn, have been linked to two subsequent outbreaks in the area, as well spikes in positive tests for the coronavirus at a long-term care facility and within a school district, local health officials said.
“We are investigating every positive case, but due to the surge in new cases we are not able to complete all contact tracing at this time,” the officials said in a statement.
In Ohio, meanwhile, a newlywed couple spoke out this week about how they, as well as nearly half of their 83 wedding guests, fell ill following their Oct. 31 marital ceremony south of Cincinnati. Those sickened with the virus include three of their grandparents, two of whom had to be hospitalized.
“Every single day we’re getting a call,” Mikayla Bishop told WLWT of the ongoing cases linked to her nuptials at the Cooper Creek Event Center in Blue Ash. “Oh, here’s another person. Here’s another person. Here’s another person. And it starts to take a toll on you.”
Bishop said she and her new husband, Anthony, provided face masks and hand sanitizer to all of their guests. They were shocked to see that hardly anyone was using them, however, including people who came in close contact with others on the dance floor.
“That’s what was maybe the superspreader is the dance floor,” Bishop said. “Everybody’s in each other’s face and there’s no masks.”
The couple said they now feel guilty and want others to learn from their mistakes.
In an email to HuffPost on Wednesday, a representative from the Cooper Creek Event Center maintained that the facility follows its local board of health standards and that signage is posted throughout the site to remind guests to wear a mask.
The indoor space’s board of heath permits limits capacity to no more than 230 people.
“We have found the most challenging of all compliance measures is the commitment of guest behavior and the prevention fatigue that naturally sets in during an event,” the event center said in a statement.
The center’s rules do not appear to entirely comply with the state’s health guidelines, however. In addition to people being required to maintain 6 feet of social distancing, mass gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited, including wedding receptions but excluding wedding ceremonies.
Photos of the couple’s indoor wedding posted on Facebook show dozens of chairs placed side by side in at least seven rows for the ceremony, appearing to violate the 6-feet separation rule that is also recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Brian Kruse, the director of Blue Ash’s parks and recreation department that operates the center, told HuffPost that the seats, grouped in sets of 10 and with these sets distanced 6 feet apart, meet the local board of health standards.
A representative with the Hamilton County Public Health Department, which has been monitoring COVID-19 cases in this area, did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment Wednesday on the event’s safety precautions or confirmed cases related to the wedding.
With COVID-19 cases surging across the state, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) on Monday added additional restrictions on events like wedding receptions and banquets. These new rules include bans on dancing, self-service bars and buffets. There are also caps on how many people can be seated at one table.
“We have seen great tragedy associated with such events. It’s not the ceremonies causing the problem. It’s the party afterward,” he said.
Kruse told HuffPost that these new rules will further limit mass gatherings and certain activities at the facility.
Since August, the CDC has been monitoring COVID-19 cases linked to another superspreader wedding of 55 guests in rural Maine. That event sparked outbreaks at a long-term care facility and a correctional facility.
As of last week, 177 cases have been linked to the Aug. 7 gathering. Of those cases, seven people were hospitalized and seven ― four of whom were among those hospitalized ― have died. None of the people who were hospitalized or died attended the wedding, the CDC said in an updated report on the outbreaks Friday.
The outbreaks highlight “the importance of adhering to recommended mitigation measures even in communities where transmission rates are low,” the CDC said.