Superspreader events key driver in COVID-19 pandemic

Superspreader events key driver in COVID-19 pandemic

Paris – At churches, on cruise ships and even in the White House, superspreading events that can sicken dozens, even hundreds, of people have illustrated the potential for the coronavirus to infect in dramatic bursts.

Experts say these large clusters are more than just extreme outliers, but rather the pandemic’s likely main engine of transmission.

And understanding where, when and why they happen could help us tame the spread of the virus in the period before a vaccine may be widely available.

Research increasingly suggests that the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 does not fan out evenly across the population, but spreads at the extremes in an almost “all or nothing” pattern.

Many studies now suggest the majority of people with COVID-19 barely pass it on to anyone else, but when infections happen they can be explosive and supercharge an outbreak.

Then the virus can infect “10, 20, 50, or even more people,” said Benjamin Althouse, research scientist at the Institute for Disease Modeling.

This corresponds to the “80/20 rule” of epidemiology, where 80% of cases come from only 20% of those infected, but Althouse said this coronavirus may be even more extreme, with 90% of cases coming from potentially just 10% of carriers.

This transmission pattern is like “throwing matches on a pile of kindling,” he said.

People practice social distancing as they take a lunch break in Tokyo on Thursday. | REUTERS

“You throw one match, it doesn’t ignite.…

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