At Least Ten Percent of Attendees Came Down with COVID at the CDC EIS Meeting

For those who missed it, in late April the CDC held a meeting in Atlanta that turned into a superspreader event. Initially, the number of infected was described as a few attendees, but later reports had dozens of infected attendees. Well, here’s the latest from the CDC (boldface mine):

The rapid assessment team surveyed in-person attendees from May 5–12 about their COVID-19 testing results and healthcare-seeking behavior. Among 1,443 survey respondents (over 80% of the in-person attendees):

  • 181 (13%) respondents reported testing positive for SARS-CoV-2
  • Of those who reported testing positive, 52% reported no known prior COVID-19 infection
  • 1,435 (99.4%) of respondents reported at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose
  • 49 (27%) of the respondents who tested positive received antiviral medications
  • 70% of respondents reported not wearing a mask; the event coincided with a period of low COVID-19 Community Levels, where masking is not recommended in CDC guidance
  • None were hospitalized
  • …Not surprisingly, there was an increased chance of infection the longer participants attended the conference and the more events they participated in. Specifically, respondents who tested positive reported attending the conference on average for all four days, and the risk of infection was 70% greater among those who attended for three or more days versus those who attended for two or fewer days.

    What’s galling is the summary doesn’t mention the importance of masking, even though a smaller June CDC meeting is strongly encouraging people to wear masks (boldface mine):

    Another CDC global health meeting is scheduled for the same hotel in early June; about 300 to 400 people are expected to attend in person, said one CDC employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak.

    In a “Know Before You Go” document shared with The Washington Post, CDC organizers encourage attendees at the June conference to wear their “own high-quality masks and, if possible, also carry covid-19 rapid tests with them.” Organizers of the second conference were informed about the covid outbreak at the earlier event, CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said. The agency will have masks available if employees want to wear one, she said…

    Jeffrey Duchin, health officer for Seattle and surrounding King County, said four members of his team attended the conference. Two wore high-quality masks reliably, he wrote in an email. Of the two who did not, one was sickened by the virus.

    “In my view, [Epidemic Intelligence Service] and other conference organizers should take reasonable steps to decrease the risk to participants by optimizing venue indoor air quality … opting for outdoor venues when possible, minimizing crowding, and providing N95 and KN95 masks for those who want to reduce their risk,” Duchin said.

    “At a minimum, I think it would be useful for conference organizers to inform participants of what steps are being taken to reduce the risk for COVID-19 transmission, so that participants can make informed risk assessments about any additional steps they may want to take, like masking.”

    Statistically speaking, with 181 infected, there has to be at least a handful of people who will develop some form of long COVID. The good news, such as it is, is that there is an effort to follow up with the infected to examine long-term outcomes with this cohort. While 181 isn’t a large sample size, hopefully, the response rate will be quite high (if not, then what the hell are you doing in public health?), so we can see what happens to an overwhelmingly vaccinated population after COVID infection.

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