Update, May 7, 2020: Officials in Walla Walla County have now retracted their claim that some people held parties in which they intentionally exposed themselves to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The story below reflects what was known as of May 6 before that retraction.

WALLA WALLA — Some people are intentionally flouting health recommendations by exposing themselves and others to COVID-19 in Walla Walla County, officials said.

Meghan DeBolt, director of the county’s Department of Community Health, told the Union-Bulletin that contact tracing has revealed that some people who have newly tested positive had attended parties with the idea that it might be better to get sick with the virus and get it over with.

“We ask about contacts, and there are 25 people because: ‘We were at a COVID party,’ ” DeBolt said.

She called the parties irresponsible and unacceptable.

It is unknown whether contracting the virus makes a person immune to it in the future, according to the Washington state Department of Health (DOH), which issued a statement Wednesday condemning the practice.

“There is still a lot we don’t know about this virus, including any long-term health issues which may occur after infection,” state Secretary of Health John Wiesman said in the statement. “This kind of unnecessary behavior may create a preventable uptick in cases, which further slows our state’s ability to gradually re-open.”

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Walla Walla Police Chief Scott Bieber noted that disobeying Gov. Jay Inslee’s March 23 “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order is illegal.

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“We’re not going to overreact,” he said. “But we’re going to contact people who tested positive and follow up with a phone call, making them aware of the potential gross-misdemeanor offense of disobeying the governor’s orders. If we find intentional violations, we will refer them to the city attorney.”

A misdemeanor charge may not be the only consequence of intentionally gathering right now, as Wiesman noted in the DOH statement.

“Gathering in groups in the midst of this pandemic can be incredibly dangerous,” he said, “and puts people at increased risk for hospitalization and even death.”

As of Monday, 94 residents of Walla Walla County, including some Tyson Fresh Meats employees, had been diagnosed with COVID-19. One person has died of the disease, according to health officials.

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