Two members of a choir died after the singing group met up for a rehearsal despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Dozens of members of the Skagit Valley Chorale tested positive for Covid-19 after 56 members the group’s 121-person choir met for practice on March 10 in Mount Vernon, Washington.
Skagit County Public Health said that the county’s first coronavirus death was a choir member in her 80s who attended the two-and-a-half-hour rehearsal. She was not identified, nor was the second member to die from the virus.
Eight singers told the Los Angeles Times that no one appeared ill at the practice, but three weeks later, dozens of members began feeling ill. 28 singers were tested for Covid-19 and all of them were positive. Another 17 reportedly exhibited symptoms, but did not get tested, either because tests were unavailable or they did not believe their cases were serious enough.
The youngest choir member to contract the illness was 31 years old, although the average age was 67, according to health officials.
At the time of the rehearsal, there had been no reported coronavirus cases in the county, although a woman in the state became the first American to die from the virus on February 29. Businesses and schools were still open in Skagit County. Large gatherings were still allowed, so choir conductor Adam Burdick told the group in an email on March 6 that the rehearsal was still on despite ‘stress and concerns caused by the virus,’ according to The Times.
‘I’m planning on being there this Tuesday, March 10, and hoping many of you will be there, too,’ Burdick wrote.
The group reportedly practiced social distancing in the large rehearsal room and passed around hand sanitizer, which the county had been recommending at the time.
Two of the members infected were Carolynn Comstock and her husband Jim Owen, who are both choir board members.
‘It’s really shocking how contagious it is,’ Comstock told Kiro 7.
‘During the entire rehearsal, no one sneezed, no one coughed, no one there appeared to be sick in any way.’
‘So now we know…maybe it’s transmitted not just by droplets and sneezes or coughs; maybe it’s transmitted just by people talking, just by being around each other. And then of course, if you’re singing there’s more volume to the talking, deep breathing and more volume.’
Comstock said she started exhibiting a fever and her husband became fatigued, adding that she ‘couldn’t taste anything or smell anything.’
‘It has shocked us, that they are so now quickly gone from us,’ Owen said, referring to the two members killed by the virus.
‘I don’t think there are regrets. I think we are just so impressed and shocked that this thing that’s hit our nation is so virulent.’
Both Comstock and Owen have reportedly since recovered from the virus.
‘It’s just normal random people doing things that they love to do, and all of a sudden some people are dead. It’s very sobering,’ Comstock said.
Washington state became the first coronavirus hotspot in the US and reported the country’s first death from the virus. The state now has approximately 5,250 confirmed cases and 210 coronavirus deaths.
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