Two Halloween parties result in 14 COVID-19 infected high school students

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A COVID-19 outbreak associated with Halloween parties attended by North Santa Barbara County high school students doubled in size on Nov. 10, and a public health official said the outbreak could set the county back in the state’s reopening system.

Paige Batson, Deputy Director for Community Health, said that two private events held on Oct. 30 and 31 are suspected to account for more than a dozen cases of COVID-19 among North County high school students so far. Six of those cases came to light over the weekend, and on Nov. 10 the number increased to 14 confirmed cases. Batson said that both Righetti High School and St. Joseph High School students are confirmed to have attended the two parties, though students from other high schools may have attended or been exposed.

PARTY FOUL Santa Barbara County Public Health Department officials say that two private Halloween gatherings have infected 14 North County high school students so far, and that the investigation is ongoing. - FILE IMAGE
  • FILE IMAGE
  • PARTY FOUL Santa Barbara County Public Health Department officials say that two private Halloween gatherings have infected 14 North County high school students so far, and that the investigation is ongoing.
At this point, Batson said, estimates for how many students attended the parties or may have been exposed are not concrete. Anecdotally, the county has heard reports ranging from 40 to 100 party attendees, to perhaps a few hundred at one point.



“We’re hearing so many stories and doing thorough interviews with each positive case, so we’re closely monitoring any positive cases,” Batson said.

Batson said the outbreak could have a negative impact on the county’s tier status, especially if it grows in size in the coming days.

“That's obviously a concern because our numbers are ticking upwards and this is an outbreak,” Batson said. “This could definitely have an impact on our community and our red tier status.”

Santa Maria Joint Union High School District Public Information Officer Kenny Klein initially announced the first positive case of the outbreak in a Nov. 5 statement.

“A Righetti High School student who attended a large private Halloween party in Orcutt has notified school staff of a positive test for COVID-19 this week,” Klein wrote. “A second student, who may have been at the same gathering, might also be infected. Both are presently quarantined for 14 days.”

Klein added that for precautionary reasons, all athletic practices would be discontinued for two weeks. It’s unclear whether that suspension will be extended given the new cases.

Klein directed New Times to speak with the Public Health Department for further sports practice shutdown information, but Batson said the county doesn’t play a role in decisions like that.

Klein emphasized that the gatherings were private parties, not district sanctioned, and the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the parents who hosted them.

“We hope that staff, students, and parents take this situation as a serious learning experience,” he wrote.



Batson said that even attendees who tested negative should finish out their quarantine.

“The testing is just a point-of-time [measure], so if they got tested immediately and they’re not symptomatic, that doesn't mean they’re free to break quarantine,” she said. “We’re hoping this outbreak will really illustrate to parents who sponsor these events that this should not be happening and to the students that COVID-19 is highly contagious and that you can catch it and end up exposing your vulnerable family members.” Δ

—Malea Martin

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