Letters to the Editor • Opinion
The coronavirus might not be the worst of it
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Nursing home staffers attended a 300-person superspreader wedding. Now six residents have died.

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)
Placeholder while article actions load

Last month, more than 300 people packed into a wedding near rural Ritzville, Wash., defying state restrictions. Authorities later traced more than a dozen coronavirus cases and two outbreaks to the ceremony — and warned the fallout would probably get worse.

Now, health officials say the wedding also included some guests whose job is caring for among the most vulnerable to coronavirus: nursing-home residents. At least six residents have now died of covid-19 at two nursing homes where staffers tested positive for the virus after attending the wedding, the local department announced in a Thursday news release.

The Grant County Health District said it hasn’t yet definitively linked those deaths to the wedding, but the department intends to do full contact tracing on the staffers who tested positive after attending the event, spokeswoman Theresa Adkinson told The Washington Post in an email statement late Sunday.

“Because staff in these facilities care for entire units, direct contact with associated patients is not known,” according to the department’s news release.

Health experts have long warned of the risk that “superspreader” events pose to the elderly and those with underlying conditions even if they don’t participate in the mass gatherings themselves. In August, a wedding in a small Maine town with about 65 guests sparked an outbreak resulting in nearly 200 infections. Six residents of an assisted-living facility who did not attend the party died of covid-19 complications after being infected in the outbreak, the state’s CDC director later announced.

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

The continued fallout from the Washington state wedding comes as cases continue to surge across the state, which saw reported covid hospitalizations increase by about 20 percent in the past week, according to data collected by The Post. During that same seven-day period, Washington’s new daily reported deaths rose by about 167 percent.

The wedding, which according to local authorities took place at a private location near Ritzville on Nov. 7, attracted guests from multiple communities, making it difficult for the Grant County Health District to track all attendees. A little over a week later, local authorities announced the scale of the event and the outbreaks, asking attendees to get tested for the coronavirus and quarantine for two weeks.

“Your choice to gather with those outside your household could lead to additional cases of COVID-19 and even death,” the Dec. 3 statement read. “Please protect those you love, by staying home.”

Last week, the health district determined “long term care staff” from two nursing homes had also attended the wedding and later tested positive for the coronavirus; it’s not clear how many staffers were infected.

Six residents have now died of covid-19 at the Lake Ridge Center and Columbia Crest Center, both in Moses Lake, according to the department’s news release. Neither facility immediately responded to a message from The Post as of early Monday.

Two unidentified men — one in his 70s, another in his 80s — and two men in their 90s, died at Lake Ridge Center, the department said. At Columbia Crest Center, one man in his 70s and another in his 80s died. All men suffered from underlying conditions.

The department will have to do more investigating to definitively link the deaths to the wedding, Adkinson said, noting officials for now “can not state that all these deaths are [directly] associated with the wedding because staff care for all residents.”

Catch up on the biggest developments in the pandemic at the end of the day with our free coronavirus newsletter

A month after the Washington state wedding, the department is still urging state residents to stay home “as much as possible” to save the lives of the elderly as well as those with underlying and chronic conditions.

“Our most vulnerable community members — elderly, immunocompromised, and those with chronic conditions — are especially at risk of complications due to a COVID-19 infection and we must continue to take measures to protect them from this disease,” the department said in the news release.