The risk of family parties for the transmission of covid-19 – In some cases, an infected person is enough to cause an outbreak and spread the disease in several regions. Despite the potential to spread the coronavirus, superdispersers can also be a weapon in fighting the pandemic. Local outbreaks of infection with the new coronavirus often occur after parties or large family celebrations, both indoors and outdoors. Kisses here, hugs there, singing and dancing, lively conversations in the circle of relatives and friends. These are attachment rituals that make life worth living and that some do not want to lose, even in times of pandemic.
A multi-day wedding party held in different locations would have triggered a serious covid-19 outbreak in Hamm, in western Germany. The same would have happened after a big family party in the German city of Göttingen in June.
In principle, outbreaks of infection could be detected worldwide. Such “super-disseminating events” include, for example, the explosive accumulation of infections after religious celebrations, visits to clubs or zumba courses in South Korea, after parties at an Austrian ski resort, after carnival celebrations in western Germany or festivals in South Germany. beer in Bavaria. Its pattern is always similar: a situation that results in dozens of cases and, of these, hundreds of subsequent contagions.
Although large events are still banned in many countries, in traditional party venues, bars, clubs or private gatherings, the rules of distance are not always observed.
People look for the collective, seek the company of friends and relatives, go to sporting and cultural events they like. Soon, we will have Christmas and New Year, and everyone wants the old life back. And if social life moves indoors in the coming weeks due to the European winter, the likelihood of local clusters of infection will also increase.
According to epidemiology, a superdisseminator is an infected person who transmits the disease to a particularly large number of people. The infected person is not to blame, anyone can become a super disseminator if he has had contact with many at the wrong time.
The timing is also crucial, as an infected person can already be highly contagious even before the first symptoms appear. During this phase, the viral load in the throat appears to be particularly high.
However, many have no symptoms or almost none, and therefore do not even realize that they have been infected and that they are sources of contagion. In addition, some people seem to spread more viruses and for longer than others. This may be due to your immune system or the distribution of virus receptors in the body.
Often it is not even possible to identify the superdiseminator. A study by Japanese virologist Hitoshi Oshitani, who examined 61 outbreaks of infection with more than 3,000 cases, caused a sensation. He researched outbreaks in restaurants, concert halls and gyms, places considered high risk where many were infected with Sars-Cov-2. The research concludes that women under 30, without symptoms, are more likely to be spreaders of the virus.
Oshitani’s team did not cite the reasons for this. It is obvious, however, that young people mainly go to clubs, bars or parties – places that are usually full and poorly ventilated. Loud music and alcohol also make people speak louder or get closer and inhibitions lessen.
Calculation of risks
The strictness of the restrictions depends largely on the number of new infections. The decisive factor here is the so-called reproduction number R, which indicates the average number of people infected by someone. An R value of 2 means that an infected person contaminates two others. The purpose of contact restrictions is therefore to keep this number as low as possible – below 1.
However, in addition to the average R value, the so-called dispersion factor K is also decisive, which indicates how often a disease occurs and where outbreaks can form. This factor must also be kept as low as possible, because when the spread is less, the spread of the infection can be traced to a few people or even a single individual.
The fact that most infected people only infect a few people, but some superdispersators infect a large number, is first of all very good news because the protective measures can be controlled in a much more targeted way.
In most countries, restrictions on loosening social isolation aim to contain possible local outbreaks of infection and prevent another large-scale blockade with all the resulting economic and social damage.
In view of the rapid increase in the number of new infections, many countries have already drastically reduced or restricted the easing of restrictions, for example, in the areas of gastronomy or public events. Some even re-imposed the blockade on a large scale (like Israel) or isolated particularly affected areas (like Madrid).
To control a disease, it is difficult to identify and isolate individual superdispersers, especially when the infected have few or no symptoms. However, it is possible to control the circumstances that favor a “broadcast event”.
If family celebrations and parties, sporting events, concerts, going to clubs and bars and similar gatherings that bring together a large number of people, especially indoors, are prohibited, and rules such as wearing masks, hygiene and distance are observed, communities need not have to isolate themselves completely.
Even in the cold season, when flu and colds are common, respecting the rules would allow companies, stores, schools, daycare centers, and so on, to remain open and this would avoid even more dramatic economic and social consequences.
And if there is a new outbreak somewhere, all contact persons should be found as soon as possible, so that they are isolated immediately until the negative covid-19 test results. Japan, for example, not only managed to contain the spread of the virus with this method, but in this way also avoided a more drastic block
The importance of behavior
Of course, big events can be banned and measures of isolation and social distance can be reinforced, companies and restaurants can be pressured to comply with the rules. But it all depends on the social behavior of each one.
In recent weeks, in Germany, many individuals, out of conviction or ignorance, have not followed the rules of mask use, hygiene and detachment. Where there is no common sense, those responsible for the common good must find the appropriate measures to sanction the breach of the rules with severe penalties.
It should not be forgotten, however, that the vast majority strive to comply with the rules to protect themselves, but above all to protect others. And this overwhelming majority also understands that possible over-disseminating events should be avoided – even if it means giving up what you like, at least until you have a drug or vaccine against Sars-Cov-2.