Columbia County officials warn of virus spread during funeral events

GHENT – A group of people who have denigrated mask wearing and questioned the effectiveness of vaccines refuse to cooperate with public health officials after more than 100 people attended a series of private rallies at the start of the months, including a vigil and funeral, according to Columbia County Director of Public Health.

County health director Jack Mabb said on Tuesday the county was monitoring a possible “superspreader” event due to the lack of information it had received from the woman who organized the events. The host held a vigil for the deceased on December 6 and there was a funeral, followed by a bonfire in another house on December 9. At least one person who had previously contracted the coronavirus attended the events and public health officials believe that one or two others may have also tested positive, Mabb said.

Under the state’s pandemic restrictions, private gatherings are limited to 10 people.

Mabb did not identify the deceased man or the woman who organized the events, but said he and others in the county regularly received emails from a small section of the community with videos or links to stories that question the effectiveness of masks and vaccines.

“It’s a dangerous thing because it’s not the flu, there have been long term effects on people,” he said.

When the county contacted the woman who organized the funeral after learning the actual crowd size was closer to 100 than 10, she declined to tell contact tracers more. Given the lack of information, the county health department is concerned its coronavirus count will increase dramatically towards the end of the month.

Mabb said because only one person who attended the events has contacted the county and organizers refuse to speak with them, the county cannot do more than offer testing to those in their homes. .

This reflects a larger problem facing the county health department, where people swear at and slam phones on contact tracers, rather than telling them basic information, he said.

The county has learned that several parents of children attending Hawthorne Valley School and a faculty member attended the funeral. A county press release issued on Monday said the school had closed its doors to in-person teaching in part due to potential exposure caused by the events.

Karin Almquist, principal of Hawthorne Valley School, said the deceased had rented an apartment from a faculty member in Hawthorne Valley. Almquist said the school does not tolerate any gatherings that violate state public health guidelines and that the school has taken extra precautions this year to prevent infection. Almquist said she believes the school is the only one in Columbia County that doesn’t have a positive case among students, faculty or staff.

She also said she was unsure why the school was mentioned in a county press release. The school had been considering switching to distance learning since Thanksgiving due to the steady increase in cases locally. He decided to make the change on Monday out of excess of caution, and not because of an epidemic, Almquist said.

Mabb said the school did the right thing by deciding to close for an extended period.

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