Walla Walla County reports first death due to coronavirus

The county's report follows growing concern around COVID-19 parties in the Walla Walla community

Alissa Antilla, Editor-in-Chief

The Walla Walla County Department of Community Health announced the county’s first death linked to novel coronavirus via a press release on Tuesday, May 5. 

The resident was a man in his 70s who had underlying health conditions. He died on Monday, May 4, after being admitted to the hospital, according to Walla Walla County health officials.

In total, there have been 94 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Walla Walla, including four individuals who have been hospitalized and 34 who have recovered from the virus, according to the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health. 

The report comes following a May 4 press release that cautioned Walla Walla residents against participating in COVID-19 parties. 

According to Walla Walla County health officials, COVID-19 parties have run rampant in the Walla Walla community. During such parties, people who do not have the virus interact with someone who does in order to catch the virus. 

Walla Walla County health officials believe that individuals are participating in these parties in order to develop immunity to the disease, calling this intentional exposure a “herd immunity strategy.” 

COVID-19 parties in Walla Walla have gained national attention, with coverage from KOMO News, Kiro 7 News, NBC News and the Seattle Times. 

Dr. Paul Pottinger from the University of Washington Infectious Diseases said that these parties are particularly threatening to individuals over 60 and those with compromised immune systems. Although these individuals do not typically attend the parties, COVID-19 can easily be spread to them following the party, making these parties especially dangerous.

Meghan DeBolt, the director of the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health, notes that while the the parties typically only contain three or four positive cases, they can include up to 25 people in attendance. Considering all the people that those 25 people come into contact with following the party, DeBolt estimates that up to a hundred people can potentially be exposed to the virus.

“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,” DeBolt said in an interview with the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. “This will delay our community being able to reopen and get our economy operating.”

“This is stupid,” she added. “Walla Walla is better than that.”

Editor’s Note: In a recent statement, Meghan DeBolt took back her statement on COVID-19 parties. While she acknowledges that people have been gathering socially, she says that health officials have engaged in a more thorough investigation and found that these parties were not done to intentionally spread coronavirus. However, she notes that the virus may still have been spread via these gatherings.