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Shawn Vestal: The hosts of the superspreader wedding – linked to 24 deaths – could become voices against complacency

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 22, 2020

Surely, the bride and groom – and the families of the bride and groom and all the people who wanted to celebrate their joyous union – convinced themselves they were doing the right thing.

Certainly, in their own personal risk-reward calculations, they believed that ignoring the prohibition against large gatherings and proceeding with an 300-person indoor wedding in Grant County on Nov. 7 would be OK, even as experts were warning people to avoid Thanksgiving gatherings and caseloads were beginning to soar.

Naturally, the scores of people who chose to attend the celebration – including educators and people who work among the sick and elderly at long-term-care facilities – ran it through their own personal-responsibility lenses and came down on the side of crossing their fingers and celebrating the happy couple.

You can’t live in fear!

Turns out the ones who should have been living in fear weren’t even at the wedding. They were in nursing homes nearby, where some of the celebrants would soon be bringing them an unwelcome gift: COVID-19.

The scope of the spread from the now-infamous wedding is not yet fully known, in part because some people believed to have attended the wedding have refused to cooperate with investigators, according to the Grant County Health District.

But as many as two dozen deaths are suspected to be connected to that wedding, which took place in an airplane hangar in rural Adams County between Ritzville and Moses Lake. That’s one death absolutely confirmed to be linked to a wedding celebrant who brought infection to a nursing home, and 23 other instances where the connection is likely.

In all, the wedding has been linked to outbreaks at two nursing homes and the Moses Lake School District, and the full impact is still being tallied. If this case is anything like almost everything else about the coronavirus, the story is liable to get worse, not better.

One wonders what should happen to those responsible. Some people yearn for a reckoning – a consequence. A punishment! Some want more public information about the wedding participants themselves. Give us their names! A shaming!

It’s hard to disagree too strongly with those sentiments. The names are not being publicly released by the health district, in part to encourage participation in tracing efforts, the district said in a news release.

But the magnitude of the irresponsibility was enormous. If only one person died as a result, it represents outrageous negligence, and many more probably did. All were in their 60s or older, and had underlying health conditions.

As understandable as it is to want to proceed with once-in-a-lifetime events as though everything is normal, everything is not normal and it is childishly selfish to act as if it is.

This was not early in the pandemic, before the full impact of such an event would be understood. No, this was about six weeks ago, when there was no excuse for not understanding the potential consequences. Whether those involved didn’t know or didn’t believe the reality of the pandemic, the outcome is the same: There was no excuse.

So, a few days in the stocks would be fine with me. But what would be a more useful response – a true public service – would be for those most directly involved in the wedding to come forward and tell their story to the people who are out there right now thinking just as they were before the wedding – to address the minimizers, the dismissers, the mask skeptics, the science muddiers, the deniers, the ragers outside the homes of health officers.

They should come out and take responsibility and speak to those who are being reckless with the lives of their fellow citizens. They should remind everyone that the question here – the one that plagues us all as we weigh our desire to see people, celebrate, mourn, grieve, hug, sing and dance – is not whether we, personally, individually, are willing to put our own health at risk.

It’s whether we’re willing to wager someone else’s life.

Having made that bet and lost it, the formerly joyful wedding celebrants of Grant County are in a unique position to speak to others about their mistake.

Unless they’re inhuman, this has caused them suffering and regret, and will cast a shadow on their wedding for the rest of their lives. It’s a consequence none of us would want, and hearing it expressed might give people pause before they throw caution to the wind.

We shouldn’t hold our breath in anticipation, of course.

But what a gift to the public that would be.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on Dec. 22, 2020 to correct the location where the wedding occurred.
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