As the toll of the novel coronavirus continues to surge across Canada and the United States, superspreaders stand out as a particular threat, say infectious disease experts.
A wedding in Maine has left health officials wishing the happy couple had eloped.
Sixty-five guests attended the Aug. 7 nuptials at the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket, Maine, a town that had previously been untouched by COVID-19. Health officials say face mask and distancing guidelines were ignored as the party grew to a size of 100.
Over a month later the Maine Centre for Disease Control determined that singular event had resulted in 176 positive COVID-19 cases, including at a jail, at the church where the wedding officiant is the pastor, and at a rehabilitation and living centre. Seven people have since died, none of whom even attended the wedding.
“Right now across the state of Maine things are of concern,” said Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah. “During (my weekly) media briefings I have always endeavored to be straight and to the point and not sugar-coat where things stand. That approach means today I have an obligation to share my concerns with everybody. I’m concerned with where we are. Maine CDC is concerned with where we are. And thus everyone else should be concerned with where things stand with COVID-19 right now.”
Compared to the rest of the United States, Maine has done a good job containing the virus’s spread. With just over five-thousand reported cases since the start of the pandemic, only Wyoming and Vermont have fared better. But Maine CDC says they don’t want to wait for outbreaks to raise the alarm.
“COVID-19 is not on the other side of the fence, it’s in our yard,” says Dr. Shah.
Epidemiologists have long warned that superspreader events are what they fear the most. By the time they’re aware an outbreak has occurred asymptomatic carriers could be far away.
This week in Saskatoon, health officials say a party at a private residence that had 47 guests has led to 21 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The host of the party has since been fined $2,000.
Last week Ontario’s Middlesex-London Health Unit determined an outbreak at Western University originated with 15 young people, including 11 who lived in three different houses. Through contact tracing, they’ve now determined the students went to parties and bars resulting in 28 cases overall.
Epidemiologist Dr. Barry Pakes from the University of Toronto says Canada has had fewer superspreader events than other countries because he believes most people are following the rules.
“Really we know what we have to do,” he says. “And I think it’s each of our roles to not only be responsible for our own behavior, but to be a positive influence on others as well. There are some people who may think ‘it’s not going to happen to me,’ and that’s the kind of attitude that leads to these events.”
The Bavarian resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen is currently tracking a superspreader event. Health officials say a woman was asked to go into quarantine after presenting with symptoms last week. She refused, choosing to go out on the town instead. They’re now investigating 30 people who may have been infected and are attempting to determine if a recent rise in cases can be connected to her.View link »