Who caused the coronavirus outbreak in the USA? Was it doctors?
February of 2020 may be considered the last month before quarantine, social distancing, and masking up. Gatherings of more than ten people were not yet legally forbidden and culturally shame-worthy. As a result, an indoor conference attended by nearly a hundred people at a Boston hotel was still an event many were not batting an eye at.
However, scientists have now released a study finding the international Biogen conference as one of USA’s first “superspreader” events, infecting hundreds of thousands and significantly contributing to the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Let’s take a look at what scientists found.
Science of hindsight
The U.S.-based Center for Disease Control and Prevention describes “superspreader” events as circumstances in which a few people infect a larger number of secondary people with whom they have contact. On December 10th, Science Magazine published a genetic sequencing study by a team of scientists aiming to highlight the impact of two “superspreading” events in Boston around late February.
The study’s abstract revealed one event at a skilled nursing facility where its vulnerable population immediately fell susceptible to rapid transmission and experienced significant mortality rates. The second event, the international Biogen business conference, produced sustained community transmission that spread as its participants left the conference and traveled back home to all corners of the world.
Retracing steps and flights
The study initially found that the Biogen event is linked to about 20,000 cases in the Boston metropolitan area, and between 205,000 and 300,000 coronavirus cases across the USA. However, CBS News later reported researchers saying the spread was actually more widespread after about 100 people contracted the virus at the gathering.
Reporting as a unit, the researchers concluded that their results “highlight c to prevent importation into [Massachusetts] early in the outbreak, underscore the role of superspreading in amplifying an outbreak in a major urban area and lay a foundation for contact tracing informed by genetic data.”
The study continued to detail several locations where attendees of the conference returned. Through the first of November, 51 thousand cases in and around Boston carried the genetic signature found in the strain of the virus linked to the conference. While the strain of the virus was found as far away as Australia & Slovakia, the state of Florida saw a staggering twenty-nine percent of conference-linked cases end up there.
Hindsight is 2020
While the information is ominous, the study’s lead author Jacob Lemieux said the two events are no different than any other since the outbreak began. “We don’t think these strains had a propensity to spread more than any other,” Lemieux explained. “We suspect that these types of events have been happening over and over again, and are major contributors to the propagation and spread of SARS-cov2 throughout the world.”
Lemieux’s study comes now as the United States reckons with 16.7 million cases and a death toll passing the 303 thousand mark. The vaccine by Pfizer & BioNTech have been approved for widespread use in record time. Despite early skepticism surrounding the hastened timeline of the vaccine being administered, the world is holding it’s collective breath as the inoculations slowly arrive at hospitals worldwide.
Biogen held their event on February 26th and 27th, weeks before shelter-in-place orders were issued across the country. Biogen prepared a statement in response to the outbreak: “We never would have knowingly put anyone at risk. When we learned a number of our colleagues were ill, we did not know the cause was COVID-19, but we immediately notified public health authorities and took steps to limit the spread.”
What do you make of superspreader events now at the end of 2020? Would you still attend one? Let us know in the comments, and stay safe!