Why the Capitol insurrection, Alabama’s massive celebration could be latest COVID-19 superspreader events

Protesters gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building where a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, breaking windows and clashing with police officers. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)
Protesters gather in front of the U.S. Capitol building before they rioted on Jan. 6. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

The U.S. has averaged 3,000 deaths a day from COVID-19 in the past week, and one-fifth of hospitals with intensive care units are reporting that they’ve reached 95 percent capacity. But the meteoric rise of the virus hasn’t stopped some Americans from evading safety measures — even when in large groups.

A video recorded after the University of Alabama clinched its 18th national football title on Monday shows thousands of fans streaming into the street, cheering and drinking. According to a local reporter, “some fans wore masks” but “many didn’t,” meaning that anyone carrying the virus in the crowd could have spread it to dozens of others, if not more. This type of scenario, known as a superspreader event, is not new in the U.S.

During the past year, there have been several notable superspreader events — from a Maine wedding and a South Dakota motorcycle rally to a Rose Garden Supreme Court nomination. Monday night’s event in Alabama, says Yahoo Life Contributor Dr. Dara Kass, is poised to be another one. “Any mass gathering like that is a terrible idea in the middle of the pandemic,” says Kass. “But then adding alcohol at an unmasked gathering, in close quarters, is the worst of all ideas.”

Kass adds that the decision by Alabama students to rush the streets of Tuscaloosa was especially dangerous given that there is a new variant of COVID-19 spreading in the U.S., which she says is “better at spreading” than the other strains. “There is nothing good that can be said about that event other than it’s over,” she says. At the time of publishing, neither the University of Alabama nor the Alabama Department of Public Health had responded to Yahoo Life’s request for comment.

Although the events in Alabama are troubling to Kass, she and others seem even more worried about the three members of Congress who have now tested positive following an invasion of pro-Trump rioters in the Capitol building that forced lawmakers into lockdown. In an email on Sunday, the House’s Office of the Attending Physician emailed lawmakers warning them that they may have been exposed to the coronavirus during their time spent waiting.

Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., was the latest to reveal a positive COVID-19 diagnosis on Tuesday, saying in a statement that after “narrowly escaping a violent mob incited by the President” he was forced to remain in a “secure but confined” location with dozens of colleagues.

Schneider went on to say that he and his fellow House Democrats who have tested positive — Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey — were in a room where some lawmakers were not following CDC guidelines. “Several Republican lawmakers in the room adamantly refused to wear a mask, as demonstrated in video from Punchbowl News, even when politely asked by their colleagues,” Schneider’s statement reads. “Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff.”

Kass is equally dismayed by the events that unfolded behind the scenes. “There was zero reason that anybody should have gotten infected in that environment. It is true that it is not ideal to be inside, closed up with other people, but it’s also ideal not to have people invading the Capitol, so you have to deal with the reality,” says Kass. “But if you are going to quarantine all hundred or more people in the same room, we would hope they would have enough respect for each other to keep each other safe. That is totally not what happened.”

With more than 22 million cases in the U.S., she says there is no excuse to put others in danger. “It is offensive not only to physicians and Americans, but to anybody with an ounce of humanity that there are elected officials in America that would willingly expose any other humans to the potential of getting infected,” Kass says. “The idea that anyone was intentionally unmasked — it borders on criminal.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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