Disease sleuths from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are on the case for a new outbreak of COVID-19 — one at their own conference, which sickened about 35 attendees on Tuesday.
Last week, the CDC hosted the 2023 Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) conference in Atlanta, the first time the conference has been held in person since 2019. The annual event, which dates back seven decades, was entirely virtual the year last and has been canceled entirely. in 2020 and 2021 as SIE officers were immersed in the pandemic response.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for everyone and especially our public health staff. …We are grateful that you are back with us at the ISE conference,” ISE leaders wrote in the preface to this year’s conference agenda, celebrating the return of the in-person gathering.
But signs of trouble soon appeared. Several attendees reportedly tested positive at the conference, which ran from Monday April 24 to Thursday April 27 and drew around 2,000 attendees. Some told the Washington Post that conference moderators repeatedly warned against positive cases. CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund told Ars in an email that EIS leaders noted the cases during the conference’s closing session. Conference leaders also canceled in-person training, emailed all officers with current CDC guidelines, and offered to extend hotel stays for sick attendees who needed to self-isolate, according to the Post. .
On Friday, April 28, a CDC branch manager emailed staff about the potential outbreak. The email, obtained by the Post, read: “We are informing you that several people who attended the EIS conference have tested positive for COVID-19”, The email said that at least one person during from a recruiting event on Wednesday had tested positive.
As of Tuesday, May 2, the CDC has identified about 35 participants who have tested positive, Nordlund told Ars. She added that everyone the CDC knows who has tested positive is now self-isolating at home and monitoring for symptoms.
“The CDC is working with the Georgia Department of Health to conduct a rapid epidemiological assessment of confirmed cases of COVID-19 that appear to be linked to the 2023 EIS conference to determine transmission patterns in this phase of the COVID pandemic. -19,” Nordlund wrote in an email to Ars. She told the Post that such an investigation could help sharpen “future public health directions as we emerge from the public health emergency and move into the next phase of COVID-19 surveillance and response.” .
The conference followed current CDC guidelines, Nordlund told Ars, and “many conference attendees chose to mask themselves.”
“Whenever there are large gatherings, especially indoors, such as at a conference, there is a possibility of the spread of COVID-19, even in times of low community spread,” he said. -she adds.
The Post reports that other attendees, however, did not wear masks, social distance or take other precautions to prevent transmission of COVID-19 during the event, even if they were all likely to be up to date with their vaccinations.
The CDC’s outbreak comes as the official case count is among the lowest recorded since the start of the pandemic, but case surveillance and reporting has dropped dramatically. While the virus still kills more than 250 people a day in the United States, mostly the elderly, and millions have developed long COVID, many Americans have given up on the pandemic and no longer view COVID-19 as an urgent threat. Federal responses to the pandemic are also winding down, with the public health emergency set to be lifted next week. Yet the possibility of such outbreaks remains and the virus continues to evolve, with the latest omicron subvariants XBB.1.5, now nationally predominant, and XBB.1.16 gaining traction.
“The CDC continues to recommend that everyone six months and older stay current with all COVID-19 vaccines, including an updated vaccine,” Nordlund concluded in his email to Ars. “COVID-19 vaccines are effective in preventing people from getting seriously ill, being hospitalized and dying.”