97 Percent of Coronavirus Superspreader Events Take Place Here

A new database of coronavirus superspreader events reveals what places you should avoid.

Even with states reopened across the country, the coronavirus pandemic is not yet behind us. So how can you start to return to some level of normalcy? One of the most important ways to stay safe is knowing what not to do, and why certain activities are more dangerous than others. In particular, you'll want to steer clear of superspreader events, which have a potential of producing multiple infections. There are several different factors that go into making an activity especially risky, but according to a database chronicling these events around the world, they almost all have one thing in common: 97 percent of superspreader events happen indoors.

That's not to say it's impossible to contract COVID-19 outside, but when it comes to superspreader events (SSEs), the vast majority occur inside. The database looked at over 1,100 instances of events where several people got infected to observe commonalities. This information is essential, because SSEs have been said to be responsible for 80 percent of coronavirus cases. Knowing how to stay away from them can help people stay healthy as more and more places reopen, including in states where outbreaks are still occurring. And while there have been several different kinds of superspreader events, being indoors seems to be the most consistent factor.

This matches the findings of Jonathan Kay, who compiled an earlier superspreader event database for Quillette in April. "With few exceptions, almost all of the SSEs took place indoors, where people tend to pack closer together in social situations, and where ventilation is poorer," he wrote.

young people dancing inside bar with red and blue lights

Given what we know about how coronavirus spreads, this information isn't surprising. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised individuals to avoid closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded places, and close-contact settings—all of which is far more difficult to do indoors. While improvements to ventilation may make indoor spaces safer, being inside makes it harder to maintain social distancing. Not every indoor activity will automatically be a superspreader event, but there are notably fewer risks outside.

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The new SSE database also shows that it's not only about being inside—it's also about the amount of time spent there: "The vast majority [of SSEs] took place in settings where people were essentially confined together, indoors, for a prolonged period." From the start of the pandemic, numerous outbreaks have been identified on cruise ships, in nursing homes, and in prisons.

While we each decide what level of personal risk we're willing to take in our daily lives amid coronavirus, it's important to be aware of where past outbreaks have happened—and where the next one could take place. Reading through the full superspreader event database is daunting, but keeping in mind the key takeaways is a useful step toward staying healthy. And for more on the places COVID-19 is spreading, This One Thing Makes Churches and Bars Equally as High Risk for Coronavirus.

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