Update, 9:22 pm: Walla Walla County health officials are now walking back claims that the recent COVID-19 infections in Southeast Washington can be traced to "coronavirus parties": "After receiving further information, we have discovered that there were not intentional COVID parties. Just innocent endeavors," a spokesperson for the Walla Walla County Health Department said in a statement. A full statement will be issued tomorrow.
Southeast Washington is already grappling with a severe outbreak of COVID-19 among workers at a Tyson Fresh Meats packing plant. If that weren't bad enough, people in the area now appear to be trying to intentionally infect themselves with the virus.
As first reported by The New York Times, the director of community health for Walla Walla County confirms investigators discovered two so-called coronavirus parties were held with a person who has the illness so that others could also catch it in order to achieve herd immunity.
One of the gatherings in the Walla Walla area—about 10 minutes north of the Oregon-Washington border—had at least 20 people in attendance. Two of those individuals have since tested positive for COVID-19. Attendees were reportedly young and so far have not needed medical attention, but now regret going to the party after realizing the risk of infecting vulnerable populations.
The idea of gathering bodies together in one place to contract the disease has been floated by several controversial news outlets, including the online magazine The Federalist, which in March published an article by a retired Portland internist and dermatologist advocating purposely exposing low-risk subjects to the novel coronavirus.
Most medical professionals have underscored the danger of intentional exposure due to the illness's staggering death rate—more than 70,000 in the U.S. at this point. Researchers also still do not know whether people can become reinfected.
Meanwhile, the Tyson factory in the Walla Walla County town of Wallula reopened this week with limited production after closing for 12 days as employees were tested for the coronavirus.
The Tri-City Herald reports nearly 12 percent of them have contracted the virus so far, though some tests are still being processed. Three workers have died of complications related to COVID-19.