Why are some people coronavirus superspreaders?

  • A small portion of cases are responsible for the disease’s spread
  • A single person can infect hundreds of others
  • Close contact and crowding create a superspreading environment

When an individual or small group of people are responsible for a large-scale transmission of coronavirus, the vector of infection becomes what is known as a “superspreader.” How effective are superspreaders at transmitting COVID-19 to loads of other people? Only 10-20% of cases have reportedly caused 80% of coronavirus transmissions.

Previous superspreader events have been caused by a single person carrying the coronavirus. A South Korean church, a northern Washington choir practice, barbecues, house parties, meat-packing plants, and funerals have all been identified as superspreading events. The easy spread of coronavirus becomes even more than apparent in these circumstances. 

Where previous diseases were spread first from one person to possibly two, and then four from those two and so on, contact tracers have observed upward of 73 people being infected all at once by one person who went bar-hopping.

Events are likely to become superspreaders when a lot of people have close contact with each other, such as in a choral arrangement or tightly packed bar. Throw sharing of drinks and food into the mix of closed spaces with poor ventilation, close contact, and crowding, and that’s where the coronavirus thrives. 

What should I do to avoid going to or creating a superspreader event?

To prevent superspreading events, which can produce several hundred new infections, experts say avoiding large gatherings and activities in these circumstances is necessary (the first pandemic Donald Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 20 could really put that theory to the test).

Staying home, social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands, and avoiding long-distance travel are all ways to curb the spread of coronavirus and avoid creating the next major superspreader. 

Sources: Wired UK, Science Magazine, MIT Technology Review, CNN

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