Dozens of coronavirus infections linked to Sweet 16 party: What is a ‘superspreader’ event?

The so-called ‘superspreader’ event has since been connected to some 37 COVID-19 cases

One New York teen’s 16th birthday wasn’t so sweet after the celebration was linked to dozens of cases of the novel coronavirus. The so-called ‘superspreader’ event, which took place in late September, has since been connected to some 37 COVID-19 cases, according to Suffolk County officials. 

Some 29 of those cases were reported in individuals who attended the Sweet 16 itself, which was held at the Miller Place Inn on Sept. 25. At least seven cases were household contacts, while one case was a close contact of someone who attended the party, officials said. 

“This was an egregious violation and should serve as a stark reminder of the consequences that exist for flouting COVID-19 protocols,” said Suffolk Country Executive Steve Bellone, in a statement. “These rules and regulations exist for a reason — to keep New Yorkers safe — and we all have an obligation to act responsibly.” (iStock)

“This was an egregious violation and should serve as a stark reminder of the consequences that exist for flouting COVID-19 protocols,” said Suffolk Country Executive Steve Bellone, in a statement. “These rules and regulations exist for a reason — to keep New Yorkers safe — and we all have an obligation to act responsibly.” (iStock)

Suffolk County health officials were notified following “several” positive COVID-19 cases throughout the Sachem School District. The party’s entire guest list — which included 81 guests, consisting of 49 students and 32 adults — has since been required to quarantine. 

“To date, health officials have identified 334 contacts, 151 who were non-school affiliated and 183 who were school affiliated. At present, 270 contacts are under quarantine and 11 cases are under active isolation. Several contacts have already completed their quarantine period, as their exposure dates back to more than 14 days,” officials said. 

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The inn is now facing legal action, charged with “causing, permitting and serving as the venue for an indoor gathering of more than 50 persons and did not enforce New York State and County of Suffolk Department of Health COVID-19 restrictions,” according to a news release. “Additionally, the Miller Place Inn was charged with operating a food establishment in an unsanitary condition.” The establishment also reportedly faced a fine of $12,000, per a local news outlet. 

“This was an egregious violation and should serve as a stark reminder of the consequences that exist for flouting COVID-19 protocols,” said Suffolk Country Executive Steve Bellone, in a statement. “These rules and regulations exist for a reason — to keep New Yorkers safe — and we all have an obligation to act responsibly.”

What is a ‘superspreader’ event? 

In simple terms, a superspreader event is when the “number of cases transmitted will be disproportionately high compared to general transmission,” Dr. Abraar Karan, a physician and public health researcher at Harvard Medical School, told the BBC in July. 

"I tend to think of it [like] this: The vast majority of people may not infect any other people, and some people in certain situations infect a lot of people," he said. "One person may infect 10 people, or 15 people or 20 people."

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Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that superspreader events (SSEs) “are associated with both explosive growth early in an outbreak and sustained transmission in later stages.”

“Although SSEs appear to be difficult to predict and therefore difficult to prevent, core public health actions can prevent and reduce the number and impact of SSEs. To prevent and control of SSEs, speed is essential. Prevention and mitigation of SSEs depends, first and foremost, on quickly recognizing and understanding these events, particularly within healthcare settings,” the federal agency continues. “Better understanding transmission dynamics associated with SSEs, identifying and mitigating high-risk settings, strict adherence to healthcare infection prevention and control measures, and timely implementation of nonpharmaceutical interventions can help prevent and control severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, as well as future infectious disease outbreaks.”

Superspreader events can be defined when 20% of people account for about 80% of spread, some models have shown, Karan told the BBC. 

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