Small Social Gatherings Aren’t Driving the Virus Surge (So Far)

An analysis of nearly 800 nursing homes in six states with the greatest variability, including North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, found that these homes are still hot spots for virus transmission and that little has been done since spring to reduce this risk.

It is nearly impossible to compare the relative contribution of social gatherings to the number of cases in different states, or even to find a single definition of what constitutes a gathering.

Rhode Island, which limited private gatherings to 10 people, defined the term helpful, including family reunions, birthday parties, baby showers, and overnight stays. However, some states also add larger events such as weddings and funerals to the category.

These gatherings, especially if held indoors, can certainly lead to infection. In rural Maine, a 55-guest wedding ultimately resulted in 177 cases, while a wedding in Washington state resulted in at least 17 cases. Outbreaks in communities with close-knit social networks such as the Amish and Hasidic Jewish populations have also been sparked by major social events.

However, the same does not apply to smaller private gatherings with friends and family. In Colorado, only 81 active cases are attributed to social gatherings, compared with more than 4,000 from correctional facilities and prisons, 3,300 from colleges and universities, nearly 2,400 from assisted living facilities, and 450 from restaurants, bars, casinos, and bowling alleys.

In Louisiana, social events account for just 1.7 percent of the 3,300 cases for which the state has clear exposure information.

“It is important to provide good public health advice on what to do on the holidays, without a doubt,” said Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “But it is not good to say that they are now the preponderance of the source of spread.”

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