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Second editor’s note: July 18, 2020: A statement from Nevada County Public Health has been added to this story.

Editor’s note, July 18, 2020: The event organizer replied to our request for comment. His statement is now appended to the story.

NEVADA COUNTY, Calif. July 17, 2020 – Today, word spread on social media about a large gathering over the July 4th weekend that appears to have resulted in positive COVID cases. The ‘ecstatic dance,’ held on private property against state and local rules, reportedly lasted three days (and nights.) Some attendees of the event later reported testing positive for COVID-19. Even people who did not attend but were in close proximity with attendees have tested positive, others are still awaiting either tests or results.

Caring for the community

North San Juan resident Rowen White reached out to participants and the event producer. In a short time, she pulled together a coherent thread of what appears to have happened. She posted her updates in a private, local group. Our thanks to her for sharing the updates.

“There was a 3 day dance festival called Embodiment + Full Moon Convergence hosted on private property … over July 4th weekend. The event was produced by a man named Joshua Swahe, who is not a local ( a man from Texas who is an ex-pat to Guatemala) and hosted about 150+ people.

About a week after the event, some attendees started showing up with Covid 19 symptoms, and 2 attendees tested positive, and another family who did not attend the event but were in contact with attendees also tested positive via secondary community spread. The producer says that he believes about 20% of the attendees have been tested but most are awaiting results ( only 6 results back with 2 being positive, but more with symptoms and no test results yet. Those are 7-10 days out)

I am in direct communication with the event organizer, and have asked him to make a direct statement to the San Juan Ridge community. He has agreed and is working on this. …

I have another caring community member who let me know who the private property owner is who will be reaching out to contact the property owner and hopefully will be held accountable and make a statement to the community as well. …

The event organizers emailed most attendees about the Covid19 exposure 7 days ago when they first heard about the attendees getting sick, which was about 7 days after the event. They said they notified attendees before the event that they should isolate for 7 days after the event. … They charged $88-111 for the event.”

[partial excerpt of Rowen’s post]

Another large gathering was reportedly held in Pike, a BBQ with possibly 100 people in attendance in North San Juan took place and another dance event is slated for tonight in Truckee.

Nevada County Public Health learned of the July 4th event this afternoon and is working on both outreach and response. A statement will be released tomorrow. The event producer has not returned our request for comment at publication time.

Large gatherings = large chance of infection

Limiting exposure by wearing a mask, frequently washing hands and keeping a 6-ft distance may not be on people’s mind when congregating. Getting tested and self-isolating while waiting for the test results should be a priority for anyone connected to these events.

From the California Dept. of Public Health website: “Crowds and limited physical distancing increase the risk for COVID-19. If you attended a protest, remember that confidential, free testing is available. Find a testing location near you. If you test negative it does not mean that you may not develop COVID-19 later on. Therefore, it is advisable that you self-isolate for 14 days if possible.” The same goes for dance parties. Close proximity to non-household members increases your risk of infection.

We will update this story as more details emerge.

July 18, 2020 – We received the following statement from the event organizer:

Dear Nevada County Residents,     

Firstly, I was asked to clarify that I’m not a resident on the North San Juan Ridge. Second, Americans right to Peacebly Assemble is guaranteed by the First Amendment. Third, young people have been and will continue private gatherings all over this County, and shaming us all isn’t going to stop it. A focus on Transparency, harm reduction, contact tracing, and more easily available testing is necessary to slow the spread as gatherings much larger than ours continue to happen here.

Here’s a reality check about Nevada County.  There have been, and continue to be, events larger than ours occurring here.  As I type this, there are 2 parties tonight with hundreds of people in attendance, one on the Ridge, and one outside of Truckee. The week before our Assembly happened, many friends who live around Nevada City/Grass Valley were at another gathering on the Ridge with 200 people.  Many friends here also went to Fourth of JuPlaya over the 4th of July weekend with 1,000+ people, and next week, more friends here are going to another Burning Man event an hour away with 1,500-2,000 people expected.   

My point is, many large events are happening in this area almost every week, which don’t have the level of Corona Care that we took in our event. Young people everywhere are going to continue to privately gather as Covid continues to spread throughout the US.  We wanted to do the best job possible to not spread it beyond the people who chose to come.  Our Covid Strategy for the Event was multilayered:
1. – Everyone received Green, Yellow, or Red wristbands, to choose to interact at whatever level felt most comfortable to them. 
Green – Had been isolating for 2 weeks or more
Yellow – Had isolated 1 week or more
Red – No Social Distancing the previous last 2 weeks.
Fluorescent – If you wanted everyone to stay 6 ft from you.
Locally made hand sanitizer was available all around the grounds.

Most everyone at the event had a Red wristband.  We handed out less than 10 Fluorescents. Social Distancing was respected during the event for those with masks and who wanted it.  I sent two preliminary emails advising everyone to isolate for 7-10 Days after our event, it was also written in the Event Description, and on the Rules upon Entry.  

7 days after the event – when 3 people started to report fatigue, headaches, and fever – an email was sent to everyone that there was some covid potential happening, and they should isolate for a longer period of time.   On July 16 we learned that 1 Covid test came back positive (after 5 negative tests), that alert was immediately sent out to everyone as well, with the instructions to act like you have covid, isolate, and keep your breath particles to yourself.  A local friend who works for the municipality in NVC said our contact tracing has been much more thorough than when his branch was shutdown due to the “second wave” – but they didn’t tell the entire department it was actually his co-worker who tested positive.  I hear everyone’s concern about the spread of Covid in Nevada County and how to stop it, and it seems clear that the current response and capability is not good enough to deal with the reality, and sending a ton of hate my way is not actually making you safer at all.

People are going to continue to gather in large numbers on private lands all around here, and you’re unlikely to stop this natural human need until the pandemic is over. This event attracted so much attention, because we were 100% transparent and aiming to be as responsible as possible by sharing covid info and testing locations immediately with all attendees. I don’t know of any other events in this area that even tried to contain potential spread, so if you all want to minimize your risk, then stay at home and stay safe.  Coronavirus isn’t going anywhere, and herd immunity is already happening in some boroughs of New York with positive populations of 68% in some areas.  Sweden never locked down and treated its citizens like responsible adults, and after a spike of deaths (from nursing home mismanagement) in Mid-April, has steadily decreased down to nearly zero per day.

As for accountability and moving forward towards reconciliation, we could have definitely done more to make sure community spread doesn’t happen. The one person who tested positive who wasn’t there, is not even clear if they gave it to the attendees or vice versa because of how quickly their symptoms cam after the event, which they didn’t attend. One event I know of is requiring negative covid tests for all attendees, or charging an extra $50 if they don’t – and doing temperature checks upon entry.  The adaptation and learning best practices will hopefully continue, not from me, but many other organizers.Consenting adults all over this county who know the risks are still going to gather, and if we want the best health outcome for the elderly, immunocompromised, and minority communities – integration might be a good move, rather than driving thousands of these people even further underground.  I’ll let you all figure out the best way to move forward with this very complex issue, sorry if it sounds like I’m preaching too much.

Finally, after receiving numerous death threats after this blew up, it would be alot easier for me to say Fuck This, leave this County forevor, and not try to help slow the spread and bring more awareness around the reality we’re all facing together.  Maybe I still will do that after the inevitable outrage this statement will bring. But  I’ve been speaking in depth with one influential elder on the Ridge about keeping up the contact tracing, encouragement of testing & isolation we have already been doing, along with reconciliation and healing steps moving forward, so I’d like to see that through.
In Peace, Health, and Freedom Joshua

Second editor’s note: July 18, 2020: A statement from Nevada County Public Health.

Nevada County Public Health is aware of and is conducting case investigations for confirmed positive COVID-19 cases and contact tracing for county residents who attended or were exposed to someone who attended a recently reported large social gathering in the unincorporated area of Nevada County. 

“Everyone’s actions and behavior makes a difference, and will, to a great extent, determine our case rate, threats to vulnerable populations, and whether or not our economy can stay open,” said Jill Blake, Nevada County Public Health Director. “If someone from public health calls you, then please either answer or return the call. The nurse trying to reach you will make sure you have the resources and information you need to be safe. The nurse will also ask for your close contacts, who will then receive a call as well with similar instructions and resource checks. This helps us limit the spread of COVID-19 and its impacts to our community.”

  • Even if someone is taking every recommended precaution, they may still get sick, and they should not be blamed or shamed. However, people who knowingly engage in high-risk behaviors and who do not abide by the quarantine and isolation orders are risking the health of our entire community – our physical health, mental health, and economic health.
  • Gatherings are not allowed at this time because they are high-risk activities. Most of our new confirmed cases are a result of gatherings and people not taking  precautions – e.g., distancing, face coverings. 
  • If someone was at the gathering, then they will ideally remain in quarantine until 14 days after the event. If someone becomes symptomatic during that time, then they should remain in isolation until 10 days after symptom onset AND 72 hours without fever and improved symptoms.
  • If people self-quarantine and self-isolate, then our community will be at less risk for further spread of this disease.
  • Find information about COVID-19 symptoms and testing at: https://www.mynevadacounty.com/2979/COVID-19-Symptoms