Linden dance hall outbreak raises questions on COVID strain

SHOW LOW — The recent outbreak of COVID-19 at the White Mountain Community Dance Hall in Linden on June 11 has people asking a lot of questions, primarily if the people who came down with the virus actually had COVID-19 or perhaps the new Delta variant.

At least two of the people who contracted the virus at the hall have recently reported that they had the new strain, but that is not consistent yet with results reported from Navajo County or the Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS) as of July 7.

On June 18 Ken Baker, president of the 501 © (3) dance hall and Virginia, his wife, who is treasurer, learned of four positive cases of COVID-19. They immediately placed notices on the dance hall building, the hall’s website and Facebook pa ge, contacted Juniper Ridge whose residents frequently attend the dance hall, sent out emails to the people who signed in with email addresses and contacted The Independent.

They held an emergency board meeting and closed the dance hall for two weeks on the advice of the physician of two of the people who tested positive, and hoped to re-open on July 2.

The number of people who contacted them kept climbing and when they reached 20, on June 29, the board met again and decided to close the hall until the 2022 season to keep people safe.

Virginia kept a list of all who called in and reported having the virus. She obtained contact information including whether or not they had been vaccinated. Nine of the 20 told her they had been vaccinated.

June 11, the date traced back to exposure, was the dance hall’s biggest attendance since opening in April. They had 70 people sign in that night.

The Independent contacted Navajo County Health Director Janelle Linn regarding the outbreak and on June 21 Linn said she had been seeing Facebook posts regarding the outbreak over the weekend. Linn had Infection Control Supervisor Cathy Solomon contact the Bakers and obtain information Virginia had collected on the 20, which by then had risen to 22.

The Bakers said they were passed on to a lady by the name of Hazel for further contact regarding any other positive cases they might learn of, and then Hazel passed them on to Tomi St. Mars, MSN, RN, CEN, who was to be their liaison.

On July 4 the Bakers posted on the hall’s Facebook page that George Metzger, one of the dance hall members who had contracted the virus, had died, which they reported to Navajo County.

On July 7 the Bakers received word that another of the people who had contracted the virus had died. They called Mars and were referred back to Linn but had not spoken with her yet, as of July 7.

Midnight Moon, Roger Wade and Jeanne Danowski, the entertainers at the hall on the evening of June 11, came down with the virus and posted their information on a GoFundMe page which the Bakers also shared on the hall’s page.

In a Facebook message to The Independent on July 4, Danowski mentioned the new strain — the first time anyone had mentioned it.

“...And thank you for keeping updated on this new strain. People need to know it’s the variation of covid brought up from the valley — it’s like “the old covid on steroids.

“...People need to not become complacent just because they are vaccinated. It doesn’t keep you from getting it and it does not lessen the severity. It appears how strong your immune system is and how healthy you were before you got it do matter. Age didn’t seem a factor because we are all 65 and over. It’s your health at whatever age you are and pre existing conditions,” wrote Danowski, who is currently recovering in rehab.

According to information obtained from the Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS) in an email from its Public Information Officer Steve Elliott, “COVID-19 remains active in Arizona. Individuals who aren’t vaccinated should follow CDC mitigation guidance, including avoiding crowds, masking up and maintaining physical distance. The presence of more-transmissible variants such as Delta makes this especially important.”

Elliott said data for May and June shows that nearly all Arizona COVID-19 cases were among those who were not fully vaccinated. There was no mention of any Delta strains in the data reported. He said Navajo County is the source for information on a specific outbreak in Navajo County. He did point out that AZDHS Director Dr. Cara Christ has shared information regarding the Delta variant and it can be found at https://directorsblog.health.azdhs.gov/delta-variant-highlights-need-to-be-fully-vaccinated-against-covid-19/

Linn is not able to discuss the COVID cases due to a 1996 federal act known as HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects patient information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge.

In a text to the Independent, Linn wrote, “COVID-19 virus has several variants including the delta variant which continue to be transmitted in communities across the nation. Navajo County Public Health is awaiting the results of testing of recent cases to determine which variants may exist in our communities and uses this information for surveillance. We encourage residents to continue to practice proper hand washing hygiene, stay home if you feel sick, and consider wearing a mask when social distancing isn’t possible. We also encourage vaccination to protect against covid infection. High vaccine coverage rates in a community are how we build herd immunity and is an effective way to reduce spread of disease.”

Reach the reporter at bbruce@wmicentral.com

Barbara Bruce is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering arts and entertainment on the Mountain and the Pinetop-Lakeside town government.

(1) comment

MountainMusic

I just don't understand when I travel into the valley it seems like more people are more respectful and more responsive to the virus than our citizens and residents that are up north. It is really concerning.

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