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'It didn't seem real': Family reunion leads to multiple breakthrough COVID-19 cases

A Portland woman said 21 family members either tested positive for COVID or showed symptoms of the virus. Thirteen of them were fully vaccinated.

PORTLAND, Ore. — After it was postponed in 2020, Niki Marienburg’s family reunion had all the markings of being something special.

“We were excited to be together,” said Marienburg, who lives in Portland.

She and 28 other family members from around the country stayed in Sunriver for 10 days in late June. Most of the family members were fully vaccinated and Marienburg said no one wore masks.

“We had a great time,” said Marienburg. “It was so nice, we were all hugging each other because it's been so long.”

Two days after the reunion ended, Marienburg said a cousin texted family members that she felt sick before testing positive for COVID-19.

“It sort of snowballed and we got text messages from other people in the family who actually tested positive,” said Marienburg. “It was like one of those stories you hear on the news — like, it just seemed not real. It didn't seem true.”

RELATED: With delta variant surging, Oregon COVID cases could hit close to 1,200 a day by mid-August, OHA says

In all, Marienburg said 21 family members either tested positive for COVID or showed symptoms of the virus. Thirteen of those family members were fully vaccinated, meaning, they had what doctors call breakthrough cases.

“People need to be masking up and people need to take our safety seriously,” Marienburg warned. 

Wearing masks in indoor public spaces is a recommendation echoed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as state health officials. New data from the CDC show the delta variant is twice as infectious and more likely to cause breakthrough cases.

“There were cases that happened from people who were fully vaccinated who became sick, who were able to infect others,” said Oregon’s state health officer, Dr. Dean Sidelinger. “So all of this science, all of this data that we're just now learning, is forming the basis of the [mask] recommendations that we're making now — that everyone in indoor settings should wear a mask.”

RELATED: COVID-19 cases high in Oregon counties where vaccinations are low

Sidelinger said besides wearing masks, it's more important now than ever to get vaccinated, as the vaccine may lessen the severity of breakthrough cases. 

Marienburg, who did not get COVID, thinks of her mom. She and a few other family members who got COVID during the reunion have underlying health conditions. Despite being vaccinated, Marienburg said those family members still spent time in the hospital.

“So if they had not been vaccinated,” said Marienburg, “I'm not sure that they would still be alive.”