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Watershed Festival leads to outbreak of more than 160 COVID-19 cases

Aug. 13, 2021 Updated Fri., Aug. 13, 2021 at 9:10 p.m.

By Arielle Dreher and Laurel Demkovich The Spokesman-Review

More than 160 COVID-19 cases across Washington have been tied to the three-day Watershed Music Festival held two weeks ago at the Gorge Amphitheatre.

The Grant County Health District reported a multicounty COVID-19 outbreak, including cases in King, Grant, Pierce, Skagit, Kittitas, Okanogan, Whatcom, Kitsap, San Juan, Lincoln and Stevens counties. There was also one case tied to a resident in Oregon.

As of Friday, there were more than 160 cases in people who attended the annual event, although the health district expects more cases to be confirmed in the coming days.

“The outbreak is the first one traced to an outdoor entertainment event since the lifting of statewide COVID-19 prevention measures at the end of June,” Laina Mitchell, communicable disease coordinator for the district, said in a statement.

The three-day camping and country music festival brought together more than 20,000 people. It included live music performances, food, shopping and other activities.

Masks were recommended for unvaccinated fans at all times, while vaccinated attendees could skip the mask, according to the festival’s COVID-19 protocol. Vaccination was not mandatory to attend but “strongly encouraged.”

Courtney Johanson, spokesperson for Watershed Festival, wrote in an email the festival worked to ensure all recommended guidelines from local officials were followed.

“We are encouraging everyone who attended to engage in regular testing for COVID-19, so we can all do our best to protect one another,” she wrote. “Watershed Music and Camping Festival also encourages anyone who is eligible aged 12 years and older, to get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they are able.”

Gov. Jay Inslee eased all restrictions for outdoor venues when the state fully reopened on June 30. That meant no capacity restrictions on outdoor venues and no physical distancing requirements. Inslee’s order did recommend vaccine verification, but did not require it. It also required venues to follow the state’s mask mandate, which requires masking for unvaccinated people but leaves it optional for those who are vaccinated.

The country is just now starting to see the COVID-19 effects from other outdoor music festivals that occurred this summer as restrictions eased in most places.

Lollapalooza, a larger four-day outdoor music festival in Chicago, did not become a superspreader event, according to Chicago’s Public Health Commissioner. Dr. Allison Arwady applauded the city in a series of tweets on Thursday, estimating about 90% of attendees were vaccinated. Only 203 people of the 385,000 people who attended the festival tested positive for COVID-19, Arwady said. The festival required proof of vaccination or a negative test before attending the festival.

The Grant County Health District said it was working with local, state and tribal public health partners to identify other cases of those who attended the festival.

Anyone who attended is encouraged to self-quarantine and seek testing, according to a news release from the county. Those who have symptoms of COVID-19 or come in close contact with someone with COVID-19 should get tested.

Symptoms often develop within five to six days of exposure, but could occur as far out as 14 days.

Here’s a look at local numbers

The Spokane Regional Health District reported 303 new COVID-19 cases on Friday and one additional death.

There have been 699 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County residents.

There are 133 patients hospitalized with the virus in Spokane .

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 68 new COVID-19 cases and three additional deaths.

There have been 341 deaths due to COVID-19 in Panhandle residents.

There are 79 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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