- The latest coronavirus updates from public health experts like White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci have been consistently warning people about the dangers of gathering with other people.
- A perfect example of why experts like Dr. Fauci are so worried about such gatherings is a biotech conference that happened in Boston back in February — before the coronavirus was a widely understood phenomenon in the US.
- New research shows that the conference inadvertently became a super-spreader event, with a couple of coronavirus cases there ultimately being responsible for creating some 333,000 cases around the world.
In one coronavirus update after another for much of this week, public health experts like White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci have hammered home one mantra in particular, though there are several themes that he and others keep returning to as they deliver much-needed information and suggestions to the public.
Over and over, though, experts like Fauci have stressed one point relentlessly — that gatherings of almost any kind and size that consist of people from outside of your home, whose health you can’t vouch for, are to be avoided at all costs. Not only are they convenient vectors for spreading the coronavirus, White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx recently went on the record to say this is actually how most people are going to contract the virus at this stage of the pandemic. But even more than that, the danger is particularly acute, in that gatherings can easily turn into deadly so-called “super-spreader” events, with far-reaching consequences.
To understand why experts like Dr. Fauci are so worried about gatherings of people right now, look no further than the Biogen biotech conference held in Boston back in February — back, of course, before the US fully understood the coronavirus threat that was about to hit us.
According to a new genetic fingerprinting study, two coronavirus cases that were present in attendees at that conference resulted in it becoming a super-spreader event that contributed to at least 333,000 cases across the US and Europe.
That’s according to new research from the Broad Institute in Massachusetts, published in the journal Science, which reports that one single coronavirus case was apparently responsible for 245,000 additional downstream cases around the world. A second case at the conference sparked some 88,000 coronavirus cases.
“Because SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating at the conference happened to be marked by distinct genomic signatures, we were able to track its downstream effects far beyond the superspreading event itself, tracing the descendants of the virus as they made a large contribution to the local outbreak in the Boston area and as they spread throughout the US and the world, likely causing hundreds of thousands of cases,” the researchers note in their published findings.
One of the coronavirus case “fingerprints” the researchers tracked “was exported from Boston to at least 18 US states, as well as to other countries, including Australia, Sweden, and Slovakia.”
The company acknowledged the conference took place earlier this year at a time when the general knowledge about the virus was limited. “We were adhering closely to the prevailing official guidelines,” Biogen said in a statement released to the press. “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.”
Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.