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COVID Cases Spike After Missouri Parents Host Unsanctioned Homecoming Dance

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No one wore masks to the off-the-books homecoming dance at a steakhouse in Missouri

A Missouri homecoming dance thrown by Rolla High School parents has been deemed a potential “superspreader event” by local health officials. The dance, which was not sponsored by the high school and planned secretly by parents, has resulted in 11 positive COVID cases and counting.

According to an in-depth investigation by The Daily Beast, “sailing-themed” invitations to the underground event were screenshotted and sent via Snapchat, presumably to fly under the radar seeing as the event went against the school’s COVID policy. Parents involved in organizing the dance wrote cryptic Facebook posts, and other dance-related information was relayed on Instagram. More than 150 high schoolers attended the dance.

Students, families, and staff members who were in close contact with those infected are all being notified, the Phelps-Maries County Health Department said in a statement after learning of the party.

“This event has the potential to be a super-spreader event with more cases expected over the next several weeks,” the department shared in a Facebook post. “Actions and events such as this are reckless and go against all public health mitigation strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect the entirety of the community.”

The dance was held at Matt’s Steakhouse in Rolla, Missouri on Saturday, November 7th, and health department officials confirmed that during contact tracing, they were able to determine masks were not worn by attendees for the duration of the dance. Also, because of the manpower needed to investigate the homecoming dance, all other testing and contact tracing in the area has been put on hold.

“Due to the magnitude of positive cases and contacts, all case investigation and contact tracing efforts have been forced to focus solely on this event pushing us even further behind with contacting new positive cases,” the health department stated. “If you are pending a test result or have received a positive test result, please continue to isolate.”

This event is not unlike other events that have cropped up across the U.S. throughout the pandemic, like this “small” Maine wedding where only 55 people attended, but 176 people ended up with COVID-19 and seven people died.

Ashley Wann, health director of the Phelps-Maries County Health Department, told The Daily Beast that the department has said students from the freshman through senior classes were present for the “parent-organized” event. She also said that because there was no official list of attendees, the health department is having a difficult time with effective contact tracing.

Wann said the health department was told “by community members and those in attendance” that organizers intentionally hid the exact amount of attendees and their names for just this reason — to avoid contact tracing in the event of a COVID outbreak.

Phelps County, like many places nationwide, has been seeing a notable spike in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.

“We’re extremely concerned,” Ed Clayton, CEO of Phelps Health Medical Center and the only hospital in the county, told The Kansas City Star. He said events like the Rolla homecoming dance are more becoming increasingly more common as cases continue to rise.

“I’m aware of numerous situations where we gather people together in close quarters where masks aren’t worn,” Clayton said. “Anecdotally I can tell you that those that we are testing seem to be sicker. We’re seeing a lot more patients that are actually exhibiting symptoms.”