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After attributing a spike in coronavirus cases to so-called “coronavirus parties" earlier this week, officials in a southeastern Washington State county have now walked back the comments, saying the gatherings were “innocent endeavors.”
Walla Walla County Department of Community Health Director Meghan DeBolt, who in an interview with the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin earlier this week called the gatherings “unacceptable” and “irresponsible,” revised her previous comments in a new statement on Wednesday, saying those who attended the gatherings were not intentionally trying to infect themselves.
“I formally call back my interview today,” DeBolt said in the new statement, as reported by The Associated Press. “After receiving further information, we have discovered that there were not intentional COVID parties. Just innocent endeavors.”
These parties consist of healthy individuals who expose themselves to a person with a COVID-19 infection in the hopes of contracting it and building immunity.
In a statement to Fox News on Friday, a public information officer for Walla Walla County told Fox News that county commissioners are now "reviewing the facts around this incident."
"It has been brought to the attention of the Walla Walla County Commissioners through the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health that social gatherings are beginning to occur. One of these gatherings had been reported initially as a ‘coronavirus party’ then later identified as a social gathering, such as a birthday party or Easter service. We are reviewing the facts around this incident,” the statement reads.
DeBolt’s initial comments led the Walla Walla County of Community Health to issue a news release addressing the “coronavirus parties,” reminding residents to adhere to social distancing guidelines in an effort to slow the spread of the novel virus.
“Walla Walla County health officials are receiving reports of COVID-19 parties occurring in our community, where non-infected people mingle with an infected person in an effort to catch the virus,” officials said on Monday. “As COVID-19 cases in Walla Walla County continue to rise, health officials strongly recommend you remain vigilant with physical distancing to limit community transmission of the virus.”
Prior to walking back her comments, DeBolt also told the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin that the health agency had enlisted the help of local law enforcement to break up the parties “anytime it’s possible to stop such gatherings.”
“Coronavirus parties” are similar to the idea behind so-called “measles parties,” which health officials have warned in the past are not a good idea.
"Chickenpox" parties were also common before the vaccine was licensed for use in the U.S. in 1995. Some parents would intentionally expose their unvaccinated children to a child with chickenpox in an effort to make them immune, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which notes that it “strongly recommends against hosting or participating in these events.”
Speaking to The New York Times, DeBolt said county health officials are still working to stop the rise in cases there, and in recent weeks have dealt with an outbreak of the novel virus at a local meatpacking facility. She expressed concern that some residents may not be adhering to social distancing guidelines even if they aren’t intentionally trying to expose themselves to the virus.
“We know that people are exhausted from isolation and quarantine,” DeBolt said. “We want to be able to reopen, too. We want to be able to go to restaurants and socialize with friends and family members. We need our community’s help to be diligent for a little bit longer so that we can get ahead of this.”
A spokesperson for the Walla Walla County of Community Health did not immediately respond to Fox News’s request for comment on Friday.