Nevada County expands COVID-19 tracing team after 2 cases linked to mass gathering
Special to the Sierra Sun
BY THE NUMBERS
As of July 23
Number of COVID-19 cases: 242
Number in western county: 107
Number in eastern county: 135
Number of active cases: 83
Number hospitalized: 1
Number of recoveries: 158
Number of deaths: 1
Number tested: 11,373
Number of COVID-19 cases: 1,479
Number in East Placer: 82
Number in Mid-Placer: 186
Number in South Placer: 937
Number of recoveries: 1,211
Number of deaths: 12
Number tested: 34,640
Nevada County public health officials have expanded their case investigation and contact tracing team in response to a continued increase in COVID-19 cases, with at least two cases having been linked to a large July Fourth weekend gathering in the San Juan Ridge area of western county.
The event — an estimated 150-person, three-day dance festival — is the first known local instance of COVID-19 cases related to a large public gathering.
“This is not the first instance of cases connected to a social gathering outside of one’s household,” Public Health Director Jill Blake said in an email. “Many of our local cases have been connected to social gatherings, however, to our knowledge, this is the first instance of cases being linked to a for-profit gathering and a gathering of this size.”
In a statement posted to Facebook, event organizer Joshua Swahe apologized to the community for holding the festival and said he would donate profits from the event to local nonprofits and community organizations. He also said several similar, and even larger events are still going on within the county, which influenced his decision to organize the event.
“If I knew beforehand that anyone outside this gathering would get sick because of us, or that community spread would happen, I absolutely would not have helped create it,” Swahe wrote.
This past weekend authorities broke up a 300-person music party on public land above Spooner Summer near South Lake Tahoe. Organizers were cited by federal authorities.
The party was organized by a group called Emerald Bass out of South Lake Tahoe, who wound up being cited by federal authorities. A Nevada State Park ranger was dispatched to the location for a large gathering of campers on Kings Canyon Road, where he met with a Douglas County deputy who was dispersing the crowd.
One of the DJs took responsibility for the event, but didn’t have ID. A background check revealed he had a warrant for failure to appear in Tahoe Township Justice Court.
On a Facebook post, Emerald Bass estimated the citation from the state will be $3,000. The group set up a gofundme.com page to raise money.
Called “renegades” the group hosted similar parties at a beach and at a location near Grass Valley.
“We just want to give people a spiritually healing space for love, happiness and growth,” organizers said in reply to one person who asked they not conduct more parties during the coronavirus outbreak. “No more events (are) planned and hopefully we will be in a safer place soon.”
Nevada County lists the high likelihood of exposure at a mass gathering or delayed detection of a case from a mass gathering as a scenario that indicates increased risk and could necessitate stricter measures to control the spread. The inability for the county to trace contacts for more than 20% of cases is also listed as a potential trigger, along with more than 10% or more symptomatic contacts not getting tested within 48 hours of symptom onset.
While Swahe has said he is cooperating with public health officials, according to Blake, the county does not know who attended the event or the number of attendees who have gotten tested.
“We contact and follow those who have positive test results and their close contacts,” Blake said. “Since we do not know who all attended the event, we only know that a case is connected to the event or to someone who is connected to this event if they disclose that information to us.”
According to Blake, the cases linked to the event are secondary, meaning close contacts of people who attended the event tested positive.
“Because we do not know who attended the event, we do not have a way of identifying how many of them may have been tested, but we strongly encourage everyone who attended the event to get tested,” she said.
Since mid-June Nevada County has seen a jump in cases, adding 173 since June 15 and averaging just under five new cases per day.
“Everyone’s behavior makes a difference, and will, to a great extent, determine our case rate, threats to vulnerable populations, and whether or not our economy can stay open. Even if someone is taking every recommended precaution, they may still get sick, and they should not be blamed or shamed,” Blake said. “However, people who knowingly engage in high-risk behaviors, who do not abide by the quarantine and isolation orders, are risking the overall health of our entire community, including our economic health.”
John Orona is a staff writer with The Union, a sister publication to the Sierra Sun. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 530-477-4229. Kurt Hildebrand, editor of the Record-Courier in Gardnerville, Nevada contributed to this report.
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