This One Thing Is Spreading Coronavirus Faster Than Anything Else

Research finds that taking a basic precaution can keep you and others safe from COVID-19.

As more cities and states across the country are forced to slow or pause their reopening efforts due to the surging COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, medical experts feel it is becoming increasingly clear that large gatherings are primarily responsible for spreading the virus. But studies also suggest that not all large crowds are guaranteed to be "super spreader" scenarios. A recent report from Whatcom County Health Department in Washington State finds that social gatherings and parties where participants weren't wearing face masks were responsible for spreading coronavirus faster than anything else, according to NPR.

Scientists were able to isolate how the newest reported cases had been exposed to the virus by using contact tracing to examine clusters. The research found that 14 reported cases could be traced back to a party of 100 to 150 people, which were linked to 15 future reported cases. "So that one event spread to 29 people and 31 related employers," Erika Lautenbach, director of the Whatcom County Health Department told NPR.

Besides large gatherings, experts point to one other likely location for transmission. "The secondary source of infection is workplace settings," Lautenbach said. "There were 31 related employers just associated with that one party because of the number of people that brought that to their workplace. So for us, for a community our size, that's a pretty massive spread."

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These findings go against what many predicted would result from the nationwide protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd. While many initially feared that a surge would follow the large public demonstrations, data has yet to link the two occurrences. According to medical experts, there appears to be one big difference. "We did have a rally in Bellingham, which is our county seat, and there was also a protest, and we have not been able to connect a single case to that rally or to the protest, and what we're finding is in large part that's due to the use of masks," Lautenbach told NPR. "Almost everyone at the rally was wearing a mask, and it's really a testament to how effective masks are in preventing the spread of this disease."

Some medical experts feel the tone of an event is a contributing factor in how risky it is in terms of spreading the virus. "I think there's a stark difference between [the Black Lives Matter] protests, where there's an explicit messaging around social distancing and masks, and the anti-lockdown protests, which were explicitly against the public health measures—they encouraged people not to wear masks and not to social distance," Caroline Buckee, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health told Scientific American. "That intentional messaging does matter." And for more on how to stop the spread of coronavirus, check out If Everyone Did This, 30,000 Lives Would Be Saved From COVID-19.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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