Watershed Festival at the Gorge linked to 160 COVID-19 cases

The outbreak is the first traced to an outdoor entertainment event since the lifting of Washington COVID-19 restrictions at the end of June, health officials said.

GEORGE, Wash. — The Watershed Music Festival at the Gorge is responsible for a multi-county COVID-19 outbreak, the Grant County Health District (GCHD) said on Friday. 

In a press release, the health district said cases have been identified among Washington residents in King, Grant, Pierce, Skagit, Kittitas, Okanogan, Whatcom, Kitsap, San Juan, Lincoln and Stevens counties. There was also a case tied to an Oregon resident. No cases in Spokane County have been linked to the festival so far.

“As of today, we are aware of over 160 lab confirmed COVID-19 cases across Washington state in people who attended the event. We expect more cases to be confirmed in the coming days,” Communicable Disease Coordinator for Grant County Health District Laina Mitchell said in a press release. “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.”  

The health district is working with local, state and tribal public health partners to identify more cases in people who may have attended the event. Health officials are urging the public to self-quarantine and seek testing if you attended the concert.

Watershed is a three-day country music festival that takes place at the Gorge in late July. About 20,000 people attended the 2021 festival per day, with many staying for multiple days. 

GCHD said the distance of spread is one of the more concerning things about the outbreaks and there are confirmed secondary infections, meaning those who attended the festival and contracted COVID-19 passed the virus onto those who were not there. Misty Aguilar, a spokesperson for GCHD, said she thinks it is “safe to say” that Watershed was a COVID-19 “superspreader event.” 

According to Watershed’s website, they strongly encouraged attendees to get vaccinated for COVID-19 ahead of the festival. They also recommended people who are not vaccinated to wear a mask at all times except when actively eating or drinking and to practice good hygiene.

KREM 2 reached out to Governor Jay Inslee’s Office to ask if he would consider restrictions on large gatherings in light of the announcement. Tara Lee, a spokesperson for Inslee’s office said, “We are deeply concerned about this. The rise in cases all over the state, including from large events, definitely impacts our thinking.”

Watershed provided the following statement in response to the outbreaks:

“Watershed 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. 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.”

Chicago health officials on Thursday reported 203 cases of COVID-19 connected to Lollapalooza, casting it as a number that was anticipated and not yet linked to any hospitalizations or deaths. The four-day music festival drew about 385,000 people to a lakefront park. Critics questioned holding the event during the pandemic. Footage showed tightly packed crowds at concerts and on public transportation with few masks in sight.

Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said there was “no sign of a superspreader event” at Lollapalooza. 

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