In a day to remember for the couple, but perhaps not for the reasons they had hoped, a 55-person wedding in a small town in Maine ended up giving half the guests Covid-19, leading to a coronavirus outbreak involving 177 people, killing 7 of them.
The CDC report on the huge outbreak, published today, details how one attendee who reported Covid-19 symptoms the day after the wedding, led to 27 out of 55 wedding attendees eventually being diagnosed with the virus. Another 3 cases were found in other people at the venue including staff. The index, or first case is thought to be a person who attended the wedding on August 7th, before reporting Covid-19 symptoms the next day.
At the time of the wedding, Maine had a 50 person limit for such events and guests reportedly did not wear masks, nor observe physical distancing rules. Temperature checks were done on guests at the entrance of the venue, but considering many people with Covid-19 do not report having a fever, these are considered to be of very limited use for screening. It has also been suggested that they may do more harm than good by giving people a false sense of security, thus causing them to be less careful with other protective measures like masking and physical distancing.
In a poignant display of how much damage selfishly ignoring safety guidelines can do, the outbreak spread much further, with 27 additional cases in the local community including two at a school which then had to shut completely for two weeks.
But this was only the very start of the damage.
One of the wedding guests visited a parent in the days after the ceremony. The parent was a healthcare worker at a long-term care facility and a few days after that interaction, became sick with Covid-19 symptoms. Despite experiencing symptoms, the person worked at the care home for two days before seeking a Covid-19 test. This led to an outbreak of 38 cases among staff and residents at the long-term care facility, over 100 miles away from the wedding.
Six of these people eventually died. None of them had attended the wedding.
Another guest worked at a correctional facility around 200 miles away from where the wedding reception took place. This individual reported symptoms of Covid-19 one week after attending the ceremony. Despite this, the person worked daily 8-hour shifts in two separate correctional facility units while symptomatic. This led to 18 additional cases in staff members and 48 in inmates at the facility. 16 additional household contacts of staff members were also sickened. No deaths were reported from this part of the outbreak.
Remarkably, a list of guests at the wedding was either not made, or was not made available to the authorities tracing the outbreak, with the report stating that the Maine CDC “likely undercounted cases of illness that were linked to the event, and the attack rate for the reception guests is thus a conservative estimate.”
The report concludes: “Community gatherings such as weddings, birthday parties, church events, and funerals have the potential to be SARS-CoV-2 super-spreading events (1–3). Increased transmission risk at such events might result from failure to maintain physical distancing and inconsistent use of masks. Transmission risk is further increased when events are held indoors.”
Weddings have been frequent facilitators of Covid-19 superspreader events. One ceremony near Toronto in Canada resulted in at least 44 cases. Even in New Zealand which has managed to crush it’s Covid-19 pandemic, a March wedding caused an outbreak of 98 cases. Just a few weeks ago, New York authorities managed to block a wedding that supposedly would have had around 10,000 guests, 200 times larger than the maximum gathering limit in the city at that time.
So, if you were hoping to get married this year, it might be better to have an exceptionally small ceremony while observing safety rules, or perhaps postpone a bigger event until a time when Covid-19 is not so out of control.
Or you could risk your day being memorable for all of the wrong reasons.