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Super-spreading Trump rallies led to more than 700 COVID-19 deaths, study estimates

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - OCTOBER 30: President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Green Bay-Austin Straubel International Airport on October 30, 2020 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. With four days to go before the election, Trump trails former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in the state which Trump won by less than 1 percent of the vote in 2016. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
President Trump speaks during a crowded campaign rally Friday in Green Bay, Wis. A new study estimates that more than 700 COVID-19 deaths are related to his rallies. (Scott Olson / Getty Images)

President Trump has described his campaign rallies as “fun,” “wonderful,” “the Greatest Show on Earth,” and, of course, “BIG.”

An effort to calculate whether those events have increased the spread of the coronavirus in the United States suggests that “contagious” and “deadly” would also apply.

A rigorous attempt to gauge the after-effects of 18 of the president’s reelection rallies, all held in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, suggests they have led to more than 30,000 additional cases and at least 700 additional deaths.

Those casualties would not have occurred if the campaign events had not taken place, according to a team of Stanford researchers. Media coverage of the rallies made clear there was little effort to follow guidelines about social distancing, and mask use was optional for attendees, who typically numbered in the thousands. (Indeed, face coverings were disparaged by the president on several occasions.)

Furthermore, the extra illnesses and deaths almost certainly reached beyond the ardent Trump supporters who attended the rallies, rippling outward to ensnare others in their towns and cities, the study authors said.

“The communities in which Trump rallies took place paid a high price in terms of disease and death,” the Stanford team concluded.

The study, led by economist B. Douglas Bernheim, was posted Friday on a website where social science researchers share preliminary work and seek feedback from other scholars.

On Saturday, the findings became fresh campaign fodder as the president stumped at four outdoor rallies in Pennsylvania and his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, held two drive-in events in Michigan with former President Barack Obama.

Biden spokesman Andrew Gates said the study supports Democrats’ long-standing charge that Trump’s gatherings have been “super-spreader rallies that only serve his own ego.”

The Trump campaign contends that attendees are exercising their 1st Amendment rights. They are required to submit to temperature checks and are given masks and hand sanitizer upon entering, according to campaign spokeswoman Courtney Parella.

“We take strong precautions for our campaign events,” Parella told Politico.

In a bid to determine whether the Trump assemblies really have served as super-spreading events, Bernheim and his colleagues focused on 18 rallies held between June 20 and Sept. 22. Three of those events were held indoors, further increasing the risk of coronavirus transmission.

In an interview, Bernheim made clear that patterns of coronavirus infection vary widely from county to county. But after using an array of statistical methods to make apples-to-apples comparisons, he said the pattern was impossible to ignore: The mass gatherings likely set off chains of transmission that were long and random.

The researchers traced the effects of those chains for up to 10 weeks following each event. During that time, an infected rallygoer might pass the virus to her grocer, who may pass it to

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How one summer camp’s freewheeling approach led to 118 cases

Here’s what not to do at summer camp.



a person sitting at a table with a cake: Nursing assistant Monica Brodsky, left, and nurse Taylor Mathisen work at a drive-thru testing site for COVID-19 in the parking lot at UW Health Administrative Office Building in Middleton, Wis., Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. A surge of coronavirus cases in Wisconsin and the Dakotas is forcing a scramble for hospital beds and raising political tensions, as the Upper Midwest and Plains emerge as one of the nation's most troubling hotspots. (Amber Arnold/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)


© AMBER ARNOLD/AP
Nursing assistant Monica Brodsky, left, and nurse Taylor Mathisen work at a drive-thru testing site for COVID-19 in the parking lot at UW Health Administrative Office Building in Middleton, Wis., Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. A surge of coronavirus cases in Wisconsin and the Dakotas is forcing a scramble for hospital beds and raising political tensions, as the Upper Midwest and Plains emerge as one of the nation’s most troubling hotspots. (Amber Arnold/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

A single Covid-19 positive camper set off a chain of infection that reached more than three-quarters of students, counselors and staffers at a faith-based retreat in Wisconsin over the summer, health officials reported Thursday.

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Camp organizers had tried to prevent just such a superspreading by requiring proof of immunity — an effort that failed completely, Wisconsin health officials reported in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly health report, the MMWR.

The 152 high school-aged boys from 21 states and territories and foreign countries, counselors and staff were asked to produce negative Covid-19 tests or proof they had been infected and recovered; to self-quarantine at home for a week before traveling to the camp; and to wear masks while traveling.

Once there, the camp organizers seemed to feel free to let the boys loose.

“At the retreat, students and counselors were not required to wear masks or social distance, and students mixed freely. Classes were held in outdoor pavilions with approximately 20 students per class seated less than 6 feet apart at tables,” the team, led by Ian Pray of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, wrote.

“Beds in dormitory rooms and yurts were tightly spaced with three to four sets of bunks each, shared bathrooms, and shared common areas.”

By the second week of the camp, 24 students were displaying symptoms, and two had tested positive for Covid-19. Still, camp staff did little to contain the spread.

“These students were given masks, but contact tracing was not done and the students were not isolated,” the researchers wrote.

After the second positive test result, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services stepped in. It was almost too late to stop the virus, however.

“At least one confirmed case occurred in every dormitory room and yurt,” the researchers wrote. In all, 118 people tested positive — 78% of campers and staff. This was likely an underestimate, the researchers said, because testing was done well after the outbreak started.

Only one of the four staff members got sick — they all had individual sleeping quarters.

Of interest, almost all the infected campers had symptoms, and those who had been infected before they came to camp showed no evidence of becoming infected a second time.

“This outbreak investigation documented rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2, likely from a single student, among adolescents and young adults in a congregate setting,” Pray’s team concluded.

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How one Virginia doctor’s coronavirus infection led to 25 people in quarantine

A doctor in training who wasn’t feeling well went into work.

The attending physician who supervised the Eastern Virginia Medical School resident sent the new doctor home. A little later, the doctor started to feel better and went to a barbecue with about 25 people.

The next day, when that doctor returned to work, another supervisor noticed the resident wasn’t well and sent the employee home. But that didn’t stop the doctor from going to a wedding of about 75 guests.

When the doctor’s condition worsened, the resident finally reported to the health center and got tested for the coronavirus. The nasal swab sample came back positive, which triggered a series of contact-tracing interviews to determine who might have been exposed.

EVMS leaders say the incident, which happened in July during a surge in Hampton Roads, is an example of the cascading effect one person’s infection can have, and the daunting task public health officials, institutions and employers face in trying to contain the disease from spreading further.

It also highlights the risk health professionals face in transmitting COVID-19 in clinical settings. The school recently used the story to emphasize to its students, staff and faculty the importance of wearing masks and social distancing on and off campus.

“That one individual’s behavior had about five different points where a different decision could have been made,” said Donald Combs, vice president and dean of the School of Health Professions at EVMS.

The doctor-in-training was in touch with about 100 different people, 25 of whom met the criteria for close contact and had to be put in quarantine for two weeks. Combs put it another way: That’s the equivalent of one full-time physician missing a year of work, he said.

Health departments use case investigations and so-called “contact tracing” as tools to prevent the spread of contagious diseases. People who work as disease detectives interview sick people about their whereabouts and try to reach as many people as they can who could have been infected. Then, they give them tips on how to get tested and stop passing it on to others.

Virginia contact tracers were in touch with about 81% of cases within 24 hours of the diagnosis last week, according to Virginia Department of Health data, though the goal is to reach everyone. Close to 8,500 people are under public health monitoring based on those investigations.

Close contact is usually defined as being within 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes or having exposure to the person’s coughs, sneezes or kisses while they were infectious. Research shows that a person’s contagious period could range from one to two days before a person noticed symptoms or tested positive to seven or eight days after. For mild cases of the coronavirus, the CDC is recommending that patients isolate for 10 days after their symptoms started.

For years, the state health department has conducted case investigations for other infectious diseases, like measles and tuberculosis. But the

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