The term “superspreader event” has become a frequent refrain amid the global coronavirus pandemic — with the latest incident occurring at a Long Island wedding that has seen more than 40 people infected.
But what exactly does it mean?
What is a COVID-19 superspreader event?
Superspreader events are gatherings in which one infectious person infects many others, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The potential for superspreader events underscores the importance of physical distancing, including avoiding gathering in large groups, to control spread of COVID-19,” the CDC says.
Disease trackers also refer to a gatherings as superspreader events when they are linked to a large number of COVID-19 cases.
How many cases makes a superspreader event?
There is no hard rule for how many coronavirus cases must be tied to an event for it to be dubbed a “superspreader event.”
Perry Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health, said last month, “A 10-person birthday celebration or 100-person wedding can all be superspreading events. It only takes a single infected person to infect many.”
That rationale does not only apply to COVID-19, Halkitis explained.
“Someone who has SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 — or any other viral infection like influenza, HIV or measles — can become a superspreader,” he said.
Examples of superspreader events throughout the COVID-19 crisis
Gatherings where physical distancing has been compromised — including at weddings, parties and churches — have been linked to COVID-19 superspreader events.
Long Island wedding
An Oct. 17 wedding at the North Fork Country Club in Suffolk County saw at least 41 people — including 34 attendees — become infected with COVID-19.
The nuptials — between Cydnie Piscatello and James Rugnetta — were in violation of the state’s 50-person limit on non-essential gatherings.
Washington choir practice
The superspreader event at the Skagit Valley Chorale choir practice in Washington stateKING5.com
In March, an indoor 2½-hour choir practice in Skagit County, Washington, resulted in 53 likely coronavirus cases — 33 confirmed and 20 probable — and two deaths, according to the CDC.
Sixty members of the Skagit Valley Chorale had attended the rehearsal at Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church.
White House Rose Garden
Nearly a dozen people, including President Trump and first lady Melania Trump, tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a Sept. 26 ceremony at the White House Rose Garden to announce then-Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
“We had a superspreader event in the White House and it was in a situation where people were crowded together, were not wearing masks. So the data speak for themselves,” White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci told CBS News Radio at the time.
A sign for the Big Moose Inn. A wedding was held at the inn, and has been linked to several cases of COVID-19.AP
An indoor wedding in Maine in August has been tied to at least 270 coronavirus cases and eight deaths, including outbreaks at a nursing home and a jail.
At least 65 people attended the Aug. 7 ceremony at the Tri-Town Baptist Church and the reception at Big Moose Inn in Millinocket, the Daily Mail reported at the time.
A Biogen Inc. building.AFP via Getty Images
An indoor two-day corporate conference for the biotechnology firm Biogen in Boston in February led to more than 90 cases from people associated with the event or their contacts — and potentially as many as 20,000 cases in the Boston area, a study said.
How can superspreader events be stopped?
Experts say limiting indoor gatherings is the key.
“There should not be in-person events — especially large indoor gatherings — until we have a safe and proven vaccine that is freely available to all,” Halkitis said.
“The rules to avoid infection are fairly simple: Wear a mask consistently, physically distance from others, socialize with people outside of your household outside with masks on, wash your hands regularly, get tested if you think you may have been exposed and cooperate with contact tracers.”