‘Super Spreader’ Events Increase COVID-19 Cases

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THURSDAY, April 9, 2020 (HealthDay News) — They gathered in Chicago to mourn a loved one’s passing. But the new coronavirus was lurking among them, leading to a “super spreader” event that sickened 16 and killed three.

It’s tragedies like these that have spurred extended stay-at-home orders across the United States along with bans on group gatherings as public health officials struggle to rein in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Where people are together in settings like a funeral or large family gatherings and someone is introduced into that setting who has symptoms, is sick or has an infection like coronavirus, it can be passed on to others,” said Dr. Jennifer Layden, chief medical officer of Chicago’s Department of Public Health.

Unfortunately, she’s seen it happen. In February, friends and family members gathered for the funeral of an Illinois man who died of causes unrelated to coronavirus, state health officials report.

Among the attendees: a close friend of the family who had recently traveled out of state and was fighting mild respiratory symptoms. He shared potluck and hugs with other mourners, and then returned three days later for a birthday celebration, still battling respiratory symptoms.

Only later was he tested and diagnosed with COVID-19. By then, he had already passed the virus to others. In all, 16 were infected. Three died.

The case study was reported April 8 in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Everyone is susceptible to COVID-19, because this coronavirus is new. It’s as contagious as flu, but unlike the flu, no one has vaccine protection from this virus.

Social distancing and avoiding group gatherings effectively reduce spread of the virus, because they deprive it of people to infect and virtually starve it to death, Layden said. But other steps are also important.

“It’s not just about staying at home right now, but also practicing those social distancing and hand hygiene measures, and covering your cough, especially if you have symptoms, even within your home,” she said.

Though a stay-at-home order may have you feeling a little stir-crazy, it’s not yet clear when it will be safe again for people to gather. Only after the number of new infections has been drastically reduced can getting back to normal even be considered, Layden said.

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