Why COVID-19 Exposure Parties Are a Bad Idea

N95 Mask on table with party supplies


Key Takeaways

  • In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the country has seen the rise of so-called "COVID-19 parties," in which partygoers attempt to contract COVID-19.
  • These COVID-19 parties are extremely dangerous and can have deadly consequences—not just for those who attend.
  • Depending on state and local ordinances, these gatherings could also be illegal.

Public health officials have a new worry to contend with amidst the coronavirus pandemic: Parties where people are deliberately trying to contract COVID-19 and gain immunity to the disease.

Much like "pox parties" of the past, where families would have their kids play with another child who was sick with the chickenpox, people who are having COVID parties are hoping to get sick with the disease and gain immunity. Consequently, they are either hanging out with a person who is infected or violating stay-at-home orders in order to mingle with friends.

Why COVID-19 Parties Are a Problem

This type of logic is not only flawed but extremely dangerous. As more people get sick and numbers go up, it slows down the ability of communities and local economies to open up.

Instead of spreading immunity, the COVID-19 parties could cause a spike in cases and lead people to suffer from severe symptoms including death. After all, there is no way to predict how your body will respond to the coronavirus.

People who aren't concerned about getting the virus could spread it to someone who doesn't want to get it because of a pre-existing condition or being immunocompromised. There have been at least two areas in the country—in Washington state and in North Carolina—where this is taking place, and possibly even more that have not been reported.

John Wiesman, Washington State Secretary of Health

It is unknown if people who recover from COVID-19 have long-term protection. There is still a lot we don't know about this virus, including any long-term health issues which may occur after infection. This kind of unnecessary behavior may create a preventable uptick in cases, which further slows our state's ability to gradually reopen.

— John Wiesman, Washington State Secretary of Health

Flawed Reasoning

As COVID-19 keeps spreading, most people try to avoid catching it. But health officials are starting to worry that some people may be trying to catch it on purpose. They believe that doing so will build population immunity through a herd immunity strategy.

In fact, concerns about intentional self-infection of the coronavirus have plagued health officials around the world, especially as people entertain the idea of "immunity passports." Immunity passports are certifications that enable those who test positive for COVID-19 antibodies to travel more readily and to return to work more quickly.

The primary risk with intentionally exposing anyone to infection from the coronavirus is the fact that scientists do not yet fully understand whether or not someone who has had the virus could be reinfected.

Because the coronavirus is new, there is no data illustrating whether or not people can develop immunity or how long it might last. For instance, are people even immune to COVID-19 and does it just last the season or longer?

What About Sweden's Approach?

Early on in the pandemic, Sweden decided to forgo a lockdown in hopes of achieving broad immunity to the coronavirus. And even though officials promoted social distancing, they still allowed bars, restaurants, salons, gyms, and schools to stay open. Initially, death rates in Sweden were similar to other European countries that had locked things down.

Now, Sweden's 7-day rolling average of daily confirmed COVID-19 deaths per million is the highest in Europe.

Meanwhile, neighbor Norway has a death rate that is ten-fold lower. Using this information as a benchmark, the ratio of deaths in Sweden compared to deaths in the U.S. is three to two.

Clearly, efforts at herd immunity did not work. In fact, many scientists believe herd immunity for COVID-19 may be a long way off. According to Johns Hopkins University, 70% to 90% of the population needs immunity for a country to achieve herd immunity. For instance, if 80% of the population has immunity, then four out of every five people who encounter someone with the disease will not get sick.

Why Deliberate Transmission Is a Bad Idea

With herd immunity, the idea is that a large proportion of the population is immune to a disease, which in turn stops the spread. But knowingly exposing otherwise healthy people to a virus that is so new and unpredictable is a dangerous idea.

Vaccines Are the Best Option

Vaccination is the best way to build herd immunity. COVID-19 is just too dangerous to let the disease circulate until most people have it. Additionally, even if most adults got COVID-19 and were immune, the disease could continue to spread among children, like measles and mumps did before there were effective vaccines.

Hospitals Cannot Handle a Spike in Cases

A lot of people getting the coronavirus all at once has the potential to overwhelm the healthcare system. This would in turn leave some people without much-needed healthcare.

Remember, quicker is not better. Even if everyone got the disease over time, they are more likely to receive better healthcare not only because the infections are spread out, but also because there will be more research and information available as we go on that could improve the type of care they receive.

Immunity Is Not a Given

With chickenpox, after you recovered, you were immune. But there is no guarantee of immunity with COVID-19. If this coronavirus behaves like other coronaviruses, experts indicate that it's more likely that you will be immune for a few months or maybe even years, but not forever. Consequently, there is no advantage to getting the coronavirus early.

COVID-19 Is Unpredictable

Even if you just got a mild version of the illness, you could still feel pretty miserable for a long time. In fact, you could feel sick for weeks with a fever, cough, and even trouble breathing. You may even find yourself in the hospital. And worse yet, COVID-19 is deadly.

Although the exact death rate is unknown at this point, current data seems to suggest that it is exponentially higher than the flu and even higher for people over age 65 and for those with underlying medical conditions.

COVID Parties Put Vulnerable People at Risk

Let's assume you attend a COVID party and you do in fact get infected, but you are showing no symptoms. You may assume you never actually contracted the virus, and continue going about your life as if nothing has changed.

But what if you were in fact sick, but just asymptomatic? You could very well infect the most vulnerable people around you—even though they are doing everything they can to avoid contracting the disease. Suddenly, your quest for immunity has some unintended consequences, especially if those vulnerable people that you unknowingly infected need to be hospitalized or even die.

What You Can Do Instead

While it's normal to want to see family and friends again after social distancing for so long, it's important to take the necessary steps to protect yourself and others. Intentionally exposing yourself or your family to the coronavirus is not going to get rid of COVID-19, and it's not going to help the country to speed through the process. In fact, it may slow it down.

Even if you have no desire to intentionally become infected with the coronavirus, it's still not a good idea to have large gatherings right now. The best thing you can do is follow your state's guidelines on mask-wearing and social distancing and limit the number of people you come in contact with. In the meantime, take advantage of all of the opportunities for online socialization via video call.

What This Means For You

There is no doubt that everyone wants to go back to normal. But we cannot make COVID-19 disappear by becoming infected on purpose anymore than we can wish it away. The best course of action is to adapt to the new normal while finding creative ways to enjoy life while still staying safe.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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7 Sources
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  1. Washington State Coronavirus Response. Health statement. Updated May 6, 2020.

  2. North Carolina Health News. Coronavirus today – May 18 – Big no to COVID parties; Waiting for phase two; Day-over-day count concerning. Updated May 18, 2020.

  3. World Health Organization. "Immunity passports" in the context of COVID 19. Updated April 24, 2020

  4. Our World in Data. Daily confirmed COVID-19 deaths per million. Updated May 30, 2020.

  5. Johns Hopkins University. Early herd immunity against COVID-19: A dangerous misconception.

  6. Kim TH, Johnstone J, Loeb M. Vaccine herd effectScand J Infect Dis. 2011;43(9):683‐689. doi:10.3109/00365548.2011.582247

  7. World Health Organization. Q&A Influenza and COVID-19 - similarities and differences. Updated March 17, 2020.