WALLA WALLA, Wash. — Editor's note May 6 at 7:20 p.m.: Since this story aired on KING 5, Walla Walla County health officials have walked back their previous statements that people were hosting parties with the intention of contracting the virus to develop immunity. A Walla Walla County Health Department spokesperson reached out to "recall" their comments and explained that the parties weren't intended to infect people.
The statement reads in full: "I formally call back my interview today. After receiving further information, we have discovered that there were not intentional covid parties. Just innocent endeavors. Please recall my interview."
Walla Walla health officials say some people are intentionally flouting health recommendations by exposing themselves and others to COVID-19.
Walla Walla County's director of the Department of Community Health, Meghan DeBolt, told the Union-Bulletin this week that contact tracing has revealed that some are attending parties with the idea that it is better to get sick with the virus and get it over with.
DeBolt said new positive test results in the county have resulted from such gatherings. She called the parties irresponsible.
As of Tuesday, there was one death and 94 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Walla Walla County. Forty people have recovered from the virus, according to the county’s Department of Community Health.
"While some people with COVID-19 are considered to have mild symptoms, others are at higher risk for severe illness," a statement from the health department said. "Health officials stress that there is much we don't know about COVID-19. Epidemiologists don't know if immunity is a sure thing, if reinfection is possible, or if a virus could continue living inside you. They do know that even the young can be hospitalized, survivors may suffer long-term damage, and even a 'mild' case isn't mild."
Nikki Sharp, the Healthy Communities Division manager for Walla Walla County, says she knows people are frustrated with the stay-at-home order.
"We know that people that are young are likely to get impatient right now. We know people are struggling with the stay at home piece," said Sharp. "We’re doing our contact tracing and investigating positive cases and ensuring that we are trying to provide education as part of that process.”
Washington State Department of Health official also issued a statement Wednesday regarding the "coronavirus parties" saying they are "alarmed."
“Gathering in groups in the midst of this pandemic can be incredibly dangerous and puts people at increased risk for hospitalization and even death,” John Wiesman, Washington State Secretary of Health said. "Furthermore, it is unknown if people who recover from COVID-19 have long-term protection. There is still a lot we don’t know about this virus, including any long-term health issues which may occur after infection. This kind of unnecessary behavior may create a preventable uptick in cases which further slows our state's ability to gradually reopen.”
State health officials encouraged Washingtonians to continue following Governor Jay Inslee's stay-at-home order, which is currently in effect through May 31.