Not All Social Gatherings Are Equally Risky for COVID Outbreak

Beachgoers at Huntington Beach, Calif., July 23, 2020. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
We need to begin differentiating between individual risk and risk for outbreaks as we think about public-health policy.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE E arly in the COVID pandemic, there was much discussion of super-spreaders — a single individual attending a routine and harmless event such as a birthday party, church service, or dinner party who caused many other people to become infected. As the pandemic has evolved and started significantly infecting young adults, we have become more focused on mass-gathering places such as bars and beaches.

Both super-spreaders and places for mass gatherings share something in common: multiple individuals coming into contact with multiple other individuals in a relatively short period of time. This type of mixing pattern is termed “concurrency” and has been

Jonathan Ellen is a pediatrician, epidemiologist, and public-health academic who previously served as the CEO of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

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