PLATTSBURGH — Clinton County Health Department's team of contact tracers are still tracking down possible COVID-19 exposures linked to a large party in Altona on Friday, July 17.
As of Monday, county officials said there were seven active cases, five of which were connected to one another.
John Kanoza, the county's director of public health said three positives were wed to the event in Altona and two others, dubbed "individuals under investigation," were expected to be connected pending official test results.
"We've been contact tracing like it's nobody's business," John Kanoza, the county's director of public health, said. "It's going to take the balance of this week — at least."
According to the Health Department, the party on Memory Lane Way in Altona attracted between 100 to 150 people, though some have reported closer to 200 or more attendees.
The age group was said to have been a younger crowd of those primarily in their late teens and early twenties.
Alcohol was allegedly onsite.
'KEEP IT SMALL'
From what Kanoza had heard about the gathering, he said the Health Department wasn't in support of such an event.
"Any gatherings right now should be strictly, very strictly, family," he said. "Between 20, 30, 35 people — 50 is the max — but keep it small. We've got to keep these gatherings small; we've got to get out of this mess before we start having big parties.
"We urge the public to think small when it comes to gatherings and, even then, social distance, wash your hands a lot, wear a mask, but the first thing you start with is a smaller gathering."
The Health Department was first tipped off to some sort of an event last Wednesday when two "older kids, young adults" tested positive, Kanoza said.
"They did not indicate anything about a party," he said, "but said they went to a house for some sort of a gathering."
It wasn't until the third positive COVID-19 case on Friday that local officials learned of the very large gathering that had occurred.
"Then we backtracked and tied it to the other cases," Kanoza said. "We have at least three, if not five, that are 'epi-linked' right now."
Epidemiologically-linked, or epi-linked, cases meant they were connected to one source, he explained.
"Which is good," the public health director added, "because that puts our hand on that situation and keeps it down a little bit."
Kanoza said tracers were currently categorizing party attendees based on level of contact to the confirmed positives.
Category A people were those who had direct and extended contact with the epi-linked cases.
"Our contact tracers are talking with those five people to see who they were with," Kanoza said. "Whenever we talk with someone else, we ask, 'Did you spend a lot of time with one of these five people? If you did, you have to get tested immediately.'"
Category B individuals were those who, though at the party, didn't hang around the infected individuals.
Though they could have had remote contact, Kanoza explained, that would be less significant than direct contact.
Other categories, C and D, were people like the family members of those in the first two categories, and others they may have come into contact with since.
"If they brought it home to their family or, worse yet, senior citizen grandma or grandpa," Kanoza said. "That's who we're very concerned about."
NOT ABOUT ALCOHOL
Similar to a recent party in Middleton, N.J. that made national headlines, Kanoza said the Clinton County Health Department wasn't zeroing in on underage drinking that may have occurred that Friday night.
"We're not concerned about the alcohol," he said. "We just want to find every person that may or could have been impacted by the three to five epi-linked cases that we have right now.
"We need to hone in on that."
The director of public health said the county's Sheriff's Department had spoken with the Altona homeowners and said the department wasn't "necessarily hunting down violations for fines or anything like that.
"They know that we need to get to the bottom of the impacted people and any additional positive cases."
SHERIFF WEIGHS IN
Sheriff David Favro said the department was still looking into the party, but that little had been determined as of yet.
"(The investigation) could disclose anything," he said. "We still need to get to the bottom of things and see what kind of information we can get, and then determine what we can do with it, if anything."
Favro reiterated the importance of the public avoiding similar large-scale gatherings to help keep COVID-19 cases down and to avoid setbacks in the North Country’s reopening process.
“We in law enforcement are asking our partners in the community to cooperate with us," Favro said. "There’s nobody in this community who wants to start over back where we were in early March, and I think everybody needs to bear a little bit of that burden."
'A STELLAR JOB'
As previously reported by The Press-Republican, the Champlain Valley Baseball League and the North Country U-18 Summer Soccer League both postponed upcoming games until Sunday, Aug. 2 the earliest, due to COVID-19 concerns related to the party in Altona.
CVBL officials said multiple players from multiple teams were in attendance that evening and went on to play ball against several other teams throughout last week. Summer Soccer League officials had made a similar statement.
Both had made the call as a precautionary measure, noting that, as of Sunday, no players from either league had tested positive.
Kanoza supported the move 100 percent, saying the officials had done a "brilliant thing."
"My hat is off to them; I owe them a pizza," he said. "That was a smart thing to do given what we have going on right now. I'm very impressed. They did a stellar job."
And the public health director thought the coaches saved some from infection by doing so.
"I need more of that going on," he said. "That was the total polar opposite of whoever decided to throw this party, because that was not good thinking.
"I don't care who you are, that was not good thinking."
— Staff Writer Ben Watson contributed to this report.
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