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CUMBERLAND — A child, and adult that tested positive for COVID-19 reported they attended large gatherings last weekend, and it’s unknown how many other participants could have been exposed to the disease, according to the Allegany County Health Department. 

ACHD reported 17 new COVID-19 cases Friday.

That news followed a Thursday press release from the local health department that stated “individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 who were in attendance at large private parties for teenagers held Saturday, October 3 in Allegany County.”

Brenda Caldwell, ACHD’s public information coordinator, said it’s important to note that the two individuals do not necessarily have COVID-19 as result of the parties. 

The local health department is doing contact tracing, she said. 

“The duration of the job depends on how many cases are identified, if close contacts are identified and if there are ongoing secondary cases,” Caldwell said via email.

“Attendees did report that masks were worn,” she said and added that the two cases were affiliated with gatherings at Canal Place, and Ali Ghan Shrine Club.

State and local laws allow for private parties to be hosted by private groups, she said.

Eventbrite.com indicated the local “community dance night” was organized by Allegany County parents.

In addition to the Ali Ghan Shrine Club and Canal Place, a dance was held at StoneBridge Events, the website stated.

A Sept. 23 post on the Facebook group “Class of 2021 & ACPS Parents For Re-Opening, Allegany County Maryland” stated that each person upon arrival at one of the dances had to produce a digital ticket via cell phone and a signed waiver and release of liability.

The document stated that dance participants would be financially responsible for any cost incurred as a result of needed medical treatment.

The waiver stated that facial coverings were required and social distancing was to be practiced to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

“However, Community Dance and its Affiliates can not guarantee that its participants will not become infected with COVID-19,” it stated. 

On Friday, some posts on the Facebook group page said Dr. Jennifer Corder, deputy health officer for Allegany and Garrett counties, should resign from her job for issuing the Oct. 8 press release.

The health department’s statement lacked details including how many people tested positive for COVID-19, that were related to the dances, their ages and locations where positive cases originated.

“People who attended these events are encouraged to watch for symptoms of COVID-19,” the release stated. “Symptoms may include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.”

Whether school activities including sports might be impacted by the new positive COVID-19 cases will be determined by the local school system, Caldwell said.

Cumberland Times-News asked Allegany County Public Schools for information. As of Friday evening, the school system had not responded.

Erica Stair Reddy is a Cumberland resident, parent of an ACPS senior, and one of the organizers of last weekend’s dances.

She attended the dance at Canal Place.

“Most people who do not have school age children will see these dances as unimportant, however, those of us who have teenagers understand, especially how last year went that these memories are much more to kids than simply a dance,” she said via email. “These are memories and for seniors, some of their final memories of high school with their friends.”

She and other parents are concerned about the mental health of all students in the school system.

“We consistently hear many parents are seeing a lack of motivation, depression and withdrawal from their children,” Reddy said. “We all see our children suffering from a lack of peer interaction and the normalcy that school, activities and routines bring to their lives.”

She said ACHD indicated that only one positive COVID-19 case attended a dance. 

“The health department relayed that this person was not contagious at the dance,” Reddy said. “The information provided to us from the health department regarding the second case is that someone had contacted the department and let them know that a COVID positive person, who was an adult was seen taking pictures. Again, we have not received any requests for contact tracing or chaperone or attendee lists, indicating the information is either inaccurate or as stated above the individual was not contagious.”

Thursday’s press release from the local health department “was extremely misleading to the public and allowed for the rumor mills and public perception to automatically assume the dances were unsafe, there were rampant COVID cases or that no safety measures were put in place,” she said. 

“This was an extremely unprofessional and careless way to take one case and start mass hysteria,” Reddy said. 

The dance organizers had worked directly with the local health department in planning the dances, she said.

“They were well aware we had all attendees’ contact information including email addresses and contact numbers,” Reddy said. “A much better way to alert parents would have been to target this information in a much more professional and thoughtful manner using that contact information. At the end of the day there is still a minor who has COVID and there needs to be consideration for this person and their family.”

She said the Facebook group has been advocating for parents, that want students to return safely to in-person education, to do so. 

“We support parents in the decision they’d like to make based upon their families personal situation,” Reddy said. “We have also chosen to help set up events as well and try to be as helpful as we can to the school system, while advocating for reopening. This has been extremely frustrating to navigate this situation as we receive constant conflicting information on whether the health department or the board of education or the school system itself are making key decisions. We will continue to be a voice for the parents and students.” 

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