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The coronavirus might not be the worst of it
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Hundreds broke the rules to attend a wedding. 17 now have the coronavirus, sparking two outbreaks.

Superspreader events are the leading cause of coronavirus transmission in the U.S. Here’s what they entail, and why they are so dangerous. (Video: The Washington Post)

In September, when coronavirus cases were on the wane in Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) lifted a full ban on wedding receptions but capped guest lists at 30 people.

More than a month later, just as the virus began to surge again throughout the West, a couple held their own ceremony near rural Ritzville, Wash. — and brought 10 times that number of revelers to their party.

Health officials in Washington said Monday that more than 300 people attended the wedding, providing a case lesson in why the restrictions were put in place. Two separate outbreaks have been fueled by at least 17 guests who have since tested positive for the virus, officials said — with more new cases from the event “being added daily.”

“Our personal decisions affect the health of our family, friends, and communities,” the Grant County Health District said in a statement that urged everyone who attended the wedding to get tested for the virus.

While small get-togethers have lately sparked the dramatic spike in coronavirus cases nationally, authorities have also highlighted several large weddings as superspreader events, including a ceremony in Maine in early August that has led to nearly 200 infections and at least seven deaths. More recently, an October wedding in Long Island that flouted New York’s pandemic orders has led to dozens of cases.

Cases have risen so dramatically in Washington that Inslee on Sunday announced a new round of shutdowns, banning indoor dining and closing bars and gyms, forbidding most indoor social gatherings, and limiting outdoor get-togethers to five people or fewer. The orders come as the state sets records daily, with a 38 percent increase in its weekly average of new cases.

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“Today … is the most dangerous public health day in the last 100 years of our state’s history,” Inslee said at a news conference. “A pandemic is raging in our state. Left unchecked, it will assuredly result in grossly overburdened hospitals and morgues; and keep people from obtaining routine but necessary medical treatment for non-covid conditions.”

The wedding near Ritzville has helped spread a number of those new cases, health officials said.

The event was held Nov. 7 near the town of roughly 1,600 in central Washington and drew hundreds of guests from a number of communities. When they returned home, many brought the virus with them, the Grant County Health District said.

“Attendees diagnosed with COVID-19 have also been linked to 2 subsequent outbreaks. This is an evolving situation,” the district said in a news release.

Health officials are urging anyone who attended the wedding to quarantine through Saturday. The health department also reminded future wedding planners to abide by the rules on guest limits and asked them to help keep track of everyone who shows up.

“Wedding organizers are strongly encouraged to keep a log of attendees at each service and to retain that log for at least two weeks,” the district said. “If an outbreak occurs, this information may be critical to help save lives.”