Summit County public health officials say parties contributed to 22 virus cases among Summit High School students

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include additional information from the Summit County Board of Health meeting.

KEYSTONE — A “large party” Oct. 17 was the catalyst for an outbreak of the novel coronavirus among Summit High School students, according to a news release from the Summit County Public Health Department.

On Monday, Oct. 26, Summit School District announced that in-person learning at the high school had been suspended until Nov. 9 because of nine quarantines at the school. On Oct. 28, public health officials reported 22 positive cases of the virus among students.

Although the outbreak includes students at the high school, it isn’t considered to be directly linked to the school because transmission of the virus occurred through social gatherings outside of class, district spokesperson Mikki Grebetz said.

“Both public health and the district are concerned about student close contact at social gatherings outside of school,” Grebetz said. “We’re just concerned about their actions out in the community and this leading to school quarantines as well as the two-week online learning environment that Summit High School has moved to.”

Through case investigations, Summit County public health officials found that many of the positive cases were linked to social gatherings, including an out-of-town sporting event as well as a party on the weekend of Oct. 10-11 and another party Oct. 17.

Nine of the students who tested positive attended the Oct. 17 party. Two of those nine students attended the party while under mandatory quarantine orders and while they were infectious. 

About 20 people attended the Oct. 17 gathering, which was a joint Halloween and birthday celebration, according to a Summit High student who was there. The Summit Daily News has granted anonymity to the student to prevent any potential repercussions as a result of speaking out.

“I am surprised that the virus spread amongst the party because it was well ventilated. About half of the people were outside at the same time,” the student said. “This idea of it being a high school party with kids just packed in a room is untrue.”

At the time of the party, the county’s public health order prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people. The county has since amended that order to prohibit gatherings of more than six people indoors from no more than two households. 

The student said he was not aware of the 10-person rule at the time and thought that the limit was 50 people. A violation of the local public health order is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000. The release did not say whether the county is looking into fining the hosts of the parties, and public health officials did not respond to requests for comment. 

The student, who had been exposed to the virus through a sports team, attended the party while he was supposed to be in quarantine. However, the student said public health officials did not inform him about the mandatory quarantine until 10 days after he had been exposed to the virus. 

“I got a call 10 days late from Summit County health, and that was the only call, still, that I have received from Summit County,” the student said. “Summit County is trying to blame teenagers for not listening to quarantine. I think they’re trying to blame me for that because they said I was supposed to be in quarantine since Oct. 15. Meanwhile, I had no idea.” 

The student said that if he’d known about the quarantine once he was exposed, he would not have been around people throughout that time.

At a Summit County Board of Health meeting Thursday, Oct. 29, Summit County Manager Scott Vargo said the contact tracing process takes time to complete, which might have been the reason for a delay.

“There can certainly be a delay in identifying an individual that should be in a quarantine situation,” Vargo said. “A lot of that delay is associated with when we become aware of an individual testing positive and then how forthcoming those individuals may or may not be with that contact-tracing team to tell us whom they might have been in contact with (and) what sorts of activities … they may have been participating in.”

The teenagers and young adults involved in the gatherings were not “as forthcoming as we would have hoped,” Vargo said.

At the meeting, Public Health Director Amy Wineland said the incidents involving cases with the students were “quite the web to unravel.”

“We’re only as good as the information we have,” Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said at the meeting. “This is really a teaching opportunity for parents of high schoolers. … It’s really important to share what you know and be honest. …”

The student said he believes all of the Summit High School student body learned a lesson through this experience.

“We’re all seeing the repercussions of what’s happening,” he said. “We all know cases are rising right now and parties were a stupid idea to happen. We all see that now.”

The student who attended the party said it’s been a difficult year not being able to see friends regularly. 

“We all hang out with each other outside of school for the benefit of our mental health,” the student said. “It’s important to see your friends, not just in school.”

Any students who attended the gatherings and believe they might have been exposed should get tested, according to the release. 

Centura Health provides free testing for the virus at its clinic in the Vista Professional Building on School Road in Frisco. Testing is available from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays and Sundays. To schedule an appointment, call 970-668-5584.

Editor’s note: The Summit Daily News rarely permits a source to speak on the condition of anonymity. The request was granted in this case because the student spoke candidly with the reporter about his actions and feared backlash from the community for violating the public health order. Given the current tone of dialogue surrounding the pandemic in our community, the Summit Daily News believes his concerns are warranted.

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