Health officials concerned central Illinois will see COVID-19 spike after large weekend gathering

Local News

CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WMBD) — A river party raged on Saturday in East Peoria.

Now health officials are warning it could have dangerous consequences.

“Whenever we see large gatherings where social distancing isn’t utilized or face coverings aren’t used, I think it’s not only concerning for our health department but even our neighboring counties,” said Peoria City/County Health Administrator Monica Hendrickson.

East Peoria making national headlines for it’s 16th annual ‘White Trash Bash.’

The party happened Saturday at Paradice Beach on the Illinois River.

“We usually see crowds of 1,000. This year there were less, I’m guessing 100 boats present and an average of 5-6 people per boat,” one organizer, Brian, told WMBD Monday.

Health leaders from surrounding counties told WMBD/WYZZ Monday our area could soon see a surge in positive COVID-19 cases.

A yearly river party floats on.

“I’m just ready to tear it down,” said one man attending, who goes by ‘Murph.’

Despite Tri-County health leaders warning of an upcoming wave of COVID-19.

“When people gather in large numbers and don’t do the precautions, what ends up happening is our numbers continue to grow at a rate where we can’t get ahead of it,” said Peoria City/County Health Administrator Monica Hendrickson.

The 16th annual White Trash Bash bringing hundreds to Paradice Beach in East Peoria for boating, drinking, and having fun.

“It’s gonna be a good time just hanging with friends,” Murph said. “I hope it’s pretty wild.”

Despite Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stern warning to Peoria just two days before the bash, the party raged on, catching national attention from news outlets like New York Post and Daily Mail.

Michael Johnson, Director of the Fon Du Lac Park District, had his officers out on the water all day to make sure no one got hurt.

We encourage them to practice social distancing, I don’t know how likely that is going to be in this environment, but the big thing is we want everyone to go home safe,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s department received some flack for not shutting it down.

So he released a public statement Monday.

“The Fon Du Lac Park District Police Department does not have the authority to enforce Gov. Pritzker’s current Executive Orders on restrictions designed to stop the spread of COVID-19. This order does not specifically fall under any criminal offenses normally enforced by law enforcement. Our maritime duties during this event were to deter crime as outlined in the Illinois Compiled Statutes and respond to water-related emergencies, i.e. boating incidents, injuries, etc.”

Michael Johnson | Director | Fon Du Lac Park District

Johnson also told WMBD’s Matt Sheehan, there were no fights or injuries at Saturday’s event.

Brian, one of the event organizers, was asked if he was worried the event would cause a spread of COVID-19.

But Monice Hendrickson said the consequences after events like this could be major.

“The capacity on our healthcare system gets overburdened. And that’s when we need to talk about what aggressive measures we need to do to control the admission rates,” Hendrickson said.

Hendrickson said the thing to remember is even if you don’t think you’re at-risk, other people around you might be. Adding big events like this make it hard for health officials to contact trace and the spread of the virus becomes harder to contain.

Hendrickson said a surge in cases is one of the metrics used to move back a phase on Gov. Pritzker’s reopening plan.

She said large scale events also hurt our public health system and our healthcare system, which hurts our chances for fully reopening anytime soon.

Other area health department weighing in on the weekend party, saying they were concerned as well.

“We are deeply concerned about large gatherings that have received national and local attention from this past weekend.  We really need people to take masking and social distancing seriously, not only for their individual health but the health of others in the community,” said Andrea Ingwersen, Public Information Officer for the Woodford County Health Department.

Ingwersen said the Health Department had a very busy Monday due to the increase over the weekend. Stating all health department workers are also working as contact tracers.

“Woodford County hit 100 cases today (Monday), up from 68 just a little over a week ago. Our neighboring counties are also seeing dramatic increases, this is especially concerning as many schools are back in session in the coming weeks,” Ingwersen said.

“Additionally, we are concerned about our small, local business, many of which may not survive if our region takes a step backwards or if they  have to close due to increase cases that effect their employees,” Ingwersen said.

The Tazewell County Health Department telling WMBD “We are continuing to encourage face coverings when people are gathering,” said Sara Sparkman, Communications Manager of TCHD.

Normally the ‘White Trash Bash’ sees around 1,000 people. The 16th annual event held Saturday saw less. “I’m guessing 100 boats presents and an average of 5-6 people per boat,” the event organizer, Brian, told WMBD.

While health leaders are promoting social distancing and the wearing of face coverings, WMBD saw no one at the event doing either. Brian said it’s nearly impossible to mandate either of those things at an unsanctioned rivery party.

Brian said the name of the event shouldn’t be taken literally.

“WTB is a theme party, vast majority of attendees are not actually white trash,” Brian said.

He told WMBD ‘they’ll be back for WTB 2021.’

You can find WMBD’s original report on the WTB here.

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