'Pong Fest' Party Exposes 300 Teens to Coronavirus When Guests Attend Before Getting COVID-19 Test Results

Self-isolation after testing for COVID-19 is key right now.

Everybody is relieved to be getting a little more freedom as coronavirus restrictions are lifted across the country, but some Texas teenagers may be regretting their decision to throw caution to the wind and celebrate with a huge party.

In a Facebook Live event last week, Lakeway, Texas Mayor Sandy Cox revealed that a “pong fest” party reportedly attended by 300 teens on June 20—a summer tradition that is looked forward to by Lakeway High School students each year—was probably going to lead to an increase in coronavirus cases in the community.

The Public Health Department in Austin, Texas also released a statement confirming that it is aware of the 300-person gathering, revealing that several teens were waiting for their COVID-19 test results at the time of the party—and several have since received positive results for coronavirus infections.

"The virus often hides in the healthy and is given to those who are at grave risk of being hospitalized or dying," the statement said. "While younger people have less risk for complications, they are not immune to severe illness and death from COVID-19."

In an email to CNN on Wednesday, Cox said it's still unclear whether the party led to a high number of cases in the area—but the community has seen an uptick in COVID-19 infections. The mayor said the city has had 105 cases, of COVID-19, 50 of which are currently active.

City and health officials are now urging all teenagers who attended the party to get tested and self-isolate. A pop-up testing site has been set up at the Baylor Scott & White Specialty Clinic-Lakeway to help partygoers—and anybody they’ve come into close contact with in the past week—get tested. Health care workers, too, are asking people to mention participation in gatherings when they get tested, to ensure nothing is missed during contact tracing investigations.

The Austin Public Health Department also asked the larger Lakeway community to continue to follow all recommendations to curb the spread of the coronavirus, even if they have not tested positive for the virus, or are displaying any symptoms. "Since we are in a period of significant community spread, our entire community should act as if they have been exposed and take the proper precautions to further prevent spread," the statement said.

The recommendations include self-isolating as soon as you have symptoms of COVID-19, or think you’ve been in contact with someone who tested positive. In other words, don’t wait for your own test results. Important preventative measures include social distancing, washing your hands, and wearing a mask or face covering in public.

While state guidelines vary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to advise against socializing in groups and recommends avoiding crowded places and mass gatherings. The CDC gives many examples of mass gatherings, including concerts, conferences, weddings festivals, and parades. Parties attended by hundreds of teenagers may not be specifically mentioned, but it’s pretty safe to say that this type of party—”pong fest” or otherwise–falls into that category.

The reason for this is that many people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, but can still spread the virus. "Recent studies indicate that people who are infected but do not have symptoms likely also play a role in the spread of COVID-19," says the CDC.

Texas is one of many states experiencing a rapid increase in positive COVID-19 cases recently. As of Thursday, July 2, the state has at least 174,826 cases and 2,518 deaths related to the virus. Travis County, where the party was held, has had at least 10,124 positive cases and 128 related deaths, according to a New York Times database.

In another southern state, some young people are throwing COVID-19 parties, where people who have the coronavirus attend and the first person to get infected receives a payout. Sonya McKinstry, a Tuscaloosa, Alabama city council official, told CNN that infected people are “urged” to attend.

"We thought that was kind of a rumor at first. We did some research, not only do the doctors' offices confirm it, but the state confirmed they also had the same information," she said, adding that she was furious “that something that is so serious and deadly is being taken for granted.”

It can be difficult to stick to the guidelines when those around you don’t—and that’s something that teens in particular might struggle with. But it’s important to keep sight of the bigger picture–the coronavirus hasn’t gone everywhere, and people are still getting sick and dying.

“When we see people around us without masks or not adhering to social distancing guidelines, we think, Maybe I don’t need to worry so much anymore. It is a false sense of security,” Carol A. Winner, MPH, public health expert and founder personal distancing movement Give Space, previously told Health. “The numbers of new cases and deaths tell us of the dangers and that healthy behaviors need to continue to survive the virulence of this virus. We must continue to be extremely cautious.”

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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