CDC report: Illinois bar opening linked to 46 COVID-19 cases

A new CDC report details how the indoor opening of a new bar in rural Illinois led to a COVID-19 outbreak, as infections spilled over into a dozen homes, a long-term care facility, and shut down a school system.

The bar, which held the opening in early February, had put up signs encouraging physical distancing and mask use and spaced out the tables, but attendees reported the mask use was inconsistent and some guests did not stay at least 6 feet apart.

The report detailing the cluster of 46 cases was published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

In all, 29 cases were linked directly to the event, including 26 bar patrons and 3 staff members.

 The report found 17 additional secondary infections in close contacts of the attendees in the community.

Researchers say one attendee, who was asymptomatic, had tested positive for the virus the day before the opening.

Four other attendees reported having coronavirus-like symptoms on the day of the event.

They later tested positive for the virus.

A certified nursing assistant at a long-term care facility who attended the opening tested positive for the virus during a routine screening test.

Two residents of the facility and a staff member were infected, and one was briefly hospitalized.

Another attendee, who reported developing a runny nose two days after the event, reported 26 close contacts at school indoor sports practice and in-person school instruction, according to the report.

Two student-athletes, who were among the close contacts, tested positive for the virus. 

Secondary infections were also reported in 12 households, and 5 children tested positive for the virus.

The school district closed for 2 weeks because 13 staff members were either in isolation, quarantine or absent because their child was quarantined.

The school closure affected about 650 students, Dr. Walensky says.

"These findings underscore the vast impact of a single event, affecting communities, schools, families, and fragile elderly, and it emphasizes the impressive transmissibility of this virus," Walensky says.

The coronavirus is mainly spread through close contact, usually between people within 6 feet of one another, she says.

As states lift their coronavirus restrictions, Dr. Walensky says, the report drives home the need for businesses like bars to limit the number of people indoors, improve their ventilation systems and utilize outdoor spaces whenever possible.

Consistent mask usage and physical distancing are also important, Walensky says.

The US averaging about 67,000 new infections a day, up 7% from the daily average last week.

The country is entering its fourth week of rising infections and hospitalizations, Walensky says, although deaths are decreasing.

The pace of vaccinations is accelerating.

The US is administering about 3.1 million shots per day, health officials say.

On Saturday, a record 4 million people were vaccinated across the country.

With 55% of Americans over the age of 65 now fully vaccinated, ER visits and hospitalizations in seniors are steadily dropping, while infections in younger adults are rising, health officials say.

"I want to underscore this is among 18-to 24-year-olds, and many of these, as I noted, are related to extracurricular activities and youth sports," Walensky says.

The spread of new variants of the virus, like the UK or B.1.1.7. strain, which, Walensky says, is 50% to 100 % more transmissible than the current dominant strains of the virus, may be driving the rise in infections, at least in part.

Walensky says the current FDA-authorized vaccines appear to offer a high level of protection against the dominant strains of the virus and the variants.

"That's why we are encouraging everybody to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated, as soon as it is available to them," she says.  "Because we see it working."

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