CDC report shows how a Wisconsin summer retreat became a ‘superspreading’ event

A coronavirus outbreak raged through an overnight school retreat in Wisconsin during the summer, beginning with one student before ultimately infecting more than 90 percent of the teens and the counselors, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The six-week faith-based camp had required all attendees from 23 states and territories and two foreign countries to be tested and quarantined for the week prior to the retreat, which ran from July 2 to Aug. 11. However, shortly after arriving at the camp, a ninth grader who had tested negative for the virus at home developed symptoms including a sore throat, cough and chills. The student was then given a PCR test which came back positive, the CDC reported.

Excluding 24 attendees who had provided evidence through antibody testing of having already been infected with and recovered from the virus, 91 percent, or 116, of the 128 students who had not previously been infected with the virus were determined to have Covid-19 either with a positive PCR test or a diagnosis based on symptoms.

Although the boys, all of high school age, were required to wear masks when traveling to the camp, they were allowed to go without them once they arrived and to mingle freely. The students and 21 counselors slept in close quarters: the students living four to six per room in dormitories or eight per room in yurts, and the counselors staying together in dormitories and yurts.

After the ninth grader tested positive, he was quarantined with 11 of his close contacts. After the 11 contacts tested negative by rapid antigen tests, they were released from quarantine. However, during the first week of the camp, six of the 11, as well as 18 others, reported a new onset of mild symptoms. These students were given masks, but not isolated, and there was no contact tracing, the researchers wrote.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services was notified of the outbreak July 15, and on July 28, the department tested 148 of the 152 retreat attendees. Antibody tests showed that91 percent of those who had not been infected prior to arriving at the camp, 116 out of 128, had developed an infection while there.

None of the teachers, who were quartered separately from the students and the counselors and wore masks during class and practiced social distancing at all times, tested positive for the disease.

All the illnesses were mild and there were no deaths or hospitalizations reported among those who caught the virus.

“The attack rate was extraordinary both in terms of the number infected, as well as the pace at which they were infected,” Dr. Stuart Ray, a professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, said.“It illustrates how hard it has been to control,” he said.

Given that the students and the counselors were allowed to mix freely and were not required to wear masks or practice social distancing, an outbreak

Read more

Super-spreading Trump rallies led to more than 700 COVID-19 deaths, study estimates

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - OCTOBER 30: President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Green Bay-Austin Straubel International Airport on October 30, 2020 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. With four days to go before the election, Trump trails former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in the state which Trump won by less than 1 percent of the vote in 2016. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
President Trump speaks during a crowded campaign rally Friday in Green Bay, Wis. A new study estimates that more than 700 COVID-19 deaths are related to his rallies. (Scott Olson / Getty Images)

President Trump has described his campaign rallies as “fun,” “wonderful,” “the Greatest Show on Earth,” and, of course, “BIG.”

An effort to calculate whether those events have increased the spread of the coronavirus in the United States suggests that “contagious” and “deadly” would also apply.

A rigorous attempt to gauge the after-effects of 18 of the president’s reelection rallies, all held in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, suggests they have led to more than 30,000 additional cases and at least 700 additional deaths.

Those casualties would not have occurred if the campaign events had not taken place, according to a team of Stanford researchers. Media coverage of the rallies made clear there was little effort to follow guidelines about social distancing, and mask use was optional for attendees, who typically numbered in the thousands. (Indeed, face coverings were disparaged by the president on several occasions.)

Furthermore, the extra illnesses and deaths almost certainly reached beyond the ardent Trump supporters who attended the rallies, rippling outward to ensnare others in their towns and cities, the study authors said.

“The communities in which Trump rallies took place paid a high price in terms of disease and death,” the Stanford team concluded.

The study, led by economist B. Douglas Bernheim, was posted Friday on a website where social science researchers share preliminary work and seek feedback from other scholars.

On Saturday, the findings became fresh campaign fodder as the president stumped at four outdoor rallies in Pennsylvania and his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, held two drive-in events in Michigan with former President Barack Obama.

Biden spokesman Andrew Gates said the study supports Democrats’ long-standing charge that Trump’s gatherings have been “super-spreader rallies that only serve his own ego.”

The Trump campaign contends that attendees are exercising their 1st Amendment rights. They are required to submit to temperature checks and are given masks and hand sanitizer upon entering, according to campaign spokeswoman Courtney Parella.

“We take strong precautions for our campaign events,” Parella told Politico.

In a bid to determine whether the Trump assemblies really have served as super-spreading events, Bernheim and his colleagues focused on 18 rallies held between June 20 and Sept. 22. Three of those events were held indoors, further increasing the risk of coronavirus transmission.

In an interview, Bernheim made clear that patterns of coronavirus infection vary widely from county to county. But after using an array of statistical methods to make apples-to-apples comparisons, he said the pattern was impossible to ignore: The mass gatherings likely set off chains of transmission that were long and random.

The researchers traced the effects of those chains for up to 10 weeks following each event. During that time, an infected rallygoer might pass the virus to her grocer, who may pass it to

Read more
  • Partner links