Washington health officials have warned residents against holding so-called “coronavirus parties” after receiving reports that non-infected guests were socialising with those who have tested positive for the virus, ostensibly in hopes of speeding up the process of catching and overcoming it.
“We’ve been getting reports of “coronavirus parties” where uninfected people are mingling with #COVID19 positive individuals intentionally to try to contract the virus. Bad idea!” said a tweet from Washington’s health department on Wednesday. “This is dangerous and puts people at risk for hospitalization or even death.”
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John Wiesman, Washington state’s secretary of health, said in a statement: “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 re-open.”
Health officials in Walla Walla in south-east Washington had said in a statement earlier this week that the county had seen a sudden rise in so-called “Covid-19 parties” – but walked back those claims on Wednesday evening.
Meghan DeBolt, the director of Walla Walla’s department of community health, told the New York Times officials were still hearing reports of parties attended by people infected with the virus, but said she not have evidence that they, or other guests, were seeking to deliberately spread it.
Washington state, hit early and hard by the coronavirus, has tallied 15,185 cases and 834 deaths that have been attributed to the coronavirus.
The idea is not wholly original. In years past, parents have brought children to “pox parties”, where children are deliberately exposed to others believed to have chicken pox.
Concerns of intentional self-infection have surfaced as health authorities around the world consider the concept of “immunity passports”, which could enable those who test positive for Covid-19 antibodies to travel or return to work more quickly.
But DeBolt says the inherent risk of intentionally exposing anyone to infection is compounded with Covid-19, in part because scientists do not fully understand whether someone can be reinfected by the virus.
Either way, said DeBolt, those who chose to attend parties are jeopardizing public health.
“It is not an innocent endeavor, by any means. It really sets us back. In reopening the county, we look at not only total case count, but if our community is being diligent,” she told the Bulletin.
DeBolt said she plans to enlist law enforcement to scour and stamp out any future parties.
This article was amended on 7 May 2020. DeBolt had initially said Walla Walla had seen a sudden increase in “coronavirus parties” but later contacted media outlets to say it was not clear the parties were intentionally seeking to spread the virus.