CHICAGO — Family and friends gathered for a Chicago funeral, a birthday party and then church services — and within weeks, 16 people related to those “super-spreading” events had coronavirus and three had died.
The gatherings, held in February before Illinois’ stay at home order was put in place, might have led to coronavirus spreading in the broader Chicago community, as well, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control. The report is based on investigations from the Chicago and Illinois departments of Public Health.
Experts said the spread of coronavirus through the family gatherings shows the need for social distancing — and acknowledged there might have been more people infected from the three events than just the 16 listed in the report.
In February, a man, dubbed Person A1.1, attended a funeral for a family friend, according to the report. He’d recently traveled out of state and had mild respiratory symptoms, but it wasn’t until later that a test confirmed he had COVID-19.
The night before the funeral, the man shared a takeout meal — eaten from shared serving dishes — with two family members of the person who had died. The meal lasted about three hours.
The next day, at the funeral, the man also hugged family members of the person who had died — including four people who then developed coronavirus — to express condolences, according to the report. The funeral was two hours long and featured a “potluck-style” meal.
Within six days, three of the family members who had hugged the man developed symptoms of coronavirus. One of them had to be hospitalized, was intubated, put on a ventilator and died in less than a month. The other two were treated outside the hospital and recovered.
A fourth person who’d hugged the man also visited the hospitalized family member, hugging that person and providing “limited personal care” while wearing no personal protective equipment, according to the report. That fourth person then developed symptoms of coronavirus.
Three days after the funeral, the original sick person — the man — went to a birthday party while still ill. There were nine other family members there and the party was hosted in a relative’s home.
The man had close contact with everyone there, according to the report, as he hugged other guests and shared food at the three-hour party.
Seven of the party guests then developed confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19. Just two people who attended the birthday party did not develop symptoms of coronavirus.
Two of the man’s relatives from the party were hospitalized, intubated, put on ventilators and then died.
The other five people who became sick had mild symptoms like low-grade fevers and coughs.
Two people who provided medical care to one of the man’s hospitalized family members — including a home care professional and another relative, dubbed A3.1 — developed probable cases of COVID-19, according to the report.
Person A3.1 then likely spread coronavirus to a “household contact.” That person hadn’t gone to the birthday party, but they did develop a cough three days after close contact with Person A3.1, who had symptoms of coronavirus.
The virus continued to spread.
Three of the people who had gone to the birthday party and then became ill went to church six days after they first started showing signs of coronavirus. A church attendee who had close contact with them — sitting near them for 90 minutes, talking with them and passing them the offering plate — developed coronavirus afterward.
The patients ranged in age from 5 to 86 years old, though the three who died were all 60 or older and had at least one underlying condition.
In all, the cluster showed 16 people with coronavirus: seven with confirmed cases and nine with probable cases, with the transmission of the virus “mostly occurring between nonhousehold contacts at family gatherings,” according to the report.
The original patient, the man, transmitted the infection to 10 other people directly within three weeks of becoming ill despite having no household contacts and only mild symptoms of coronavirus, according to the report.
The report shows how family gatherings — the birthday party, funeral and church service — “might have facilitated transmission of [COVID-19] beyond household contacts into the broader community,” according to the CDC.
The findings reinforce the state’s orders that ban large gatherings and encourage people to stay at home as well as the CDC’s recommendations to avoid gatherings, according to the report.
And the report notes not even case of coronavirus related to this cluster “might have been detected.”
“Persons who did not display symptoms were not evaluated for COVID-19, which, given increasing evidence of substantial asymptomatic infection, means the size of this cluster might be underestimated,” according to the report.
Coronavirus can be deadly, but the vast majority of cases have been mild. Those most at risk from the virus are people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions.
Symptoms of coronavirus can appear two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. People with no symptoms may have the virus and spread it to others.
The virus spreads between people through coughing and sneezing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The most common symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat, according to Harvard Medical School.
If you or someone else has difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, become confused, cannot be roused or develop a bluish face or lips, get immediate medical attention, according to the CDC.
How To Protect Yourself
Here’s what you can actually do to prevent getting ill:
- The CDC and other officials have said people should wash their hands often, including before, during and after eating; after using the bathroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
The CDC has a guide here for how to properly wash your hands. Remember: Wash with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
- Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
- Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch frequently, like cellphones and light switches. Here are tips from the CDC.
- Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- If you have to sneeze or cough with a tissue, throw it out immediately after using it, according to the CDC.
What To Do If You Think You’re Sick
Even if you’re not showing symptoms, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends people coming from high-risk countries (here’s a CDC list) self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.
If you do have symptoms of coronavirus, contact your primary doctor or a health care facility before going in. Explain your symptoms and tell them if you’ve come into close contact with anyone with coronavirus or traveled to an area where COVID-19 is widespread (here’s a CDC list) within the last 14 days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
From there, the experts will work with your local health department to determine what to do and if you need to be tested for coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
And, of course, if you think you’re sick with coronavirus, don’t risk exposing other people to the virus. Anyone who feels unwell has been ordered to stay home or risk getting a $500 fine.
Those with questions and concerns about coronavirus can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 800-889-3931.
Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.
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