‘Super-spreaders’ infecting people in large crowds, close gatherings

U.S. & World

(NBC) – As a growing number of states reopen popular venues like bars, nightclubs, theaters, even houses of worship, there is new concern that these places could become hot spots for coronavirus spread.

Research finds that the vast majority of coronavirus cases are caused not by touching contaminated surfaces and objects, but by person-to-person transmission. And the concern goes beyond people just sneezing and coughing on each other.

They’re called “super-spreaders,” large, close gatherings where the virus spreads like wildfire from one infected person, to an entire crowd.

Dara Sweatt and 14 of her friends had been out celebrating a birthday at a Jacksonville bar, without masks. Just days later, they started feeling sick and she says all tested positive for the coronavirus.

“It is truly terrifying,” she said. “Just a regular Saturday night, you think that you’re just going to go hang out with your friends. Then next thing you know, all of you are sick.

According to the CDC, “the virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person” while touching surfaces “is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads” because ingesting enough from a surface to make you sick is unlikely.

Researchers say indoor social gatherings are the riskiest with virus droplets spreading not just from sneezing and coughing but also loud talking and even singing.

At a choir practice in Washington state back in March, members say they used hand sanitizer and refrained from close contact. Still, 53 of 61 attendees became infected, and two died.

“There’s no other way it could have spread except by aerosol from us breathing in and out and singing, that’s the only possible way,” said choir member Ruth Backlund.

And this month in West Virginia, health officials have identified five outbreaks in churches.

“When you’re taking deep breaths and you’re loud and propelling with your voice, it travels further. Same thing with playing an instrument that you’re blowing into, like a saxophone or clarinet, so like school band recitals things like that are of concern,” said Dr. Matthew Sims, director of infectious disease research at Beaumont Health.

And for the throngs of young people, eager to get back out and socialize Dara says you may want to think twice.

“I think it’s a little too soon to assume that we can go out and we can handle that without there being repercussions,” she said.

Public health officials are also concerned about outbreaks from large outdoor gatherings, like the recent mass protests and marches across the country.

The White House task force is predicting a possible surge in cases from those events by the end of the month.

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