The ‘super-spreading event’ that didn’t happen, thanks to vaccines and ventilation | National News | San Antonio

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  • Vaccines and ventilation prevented infections when 53,000 anime fans gathered in New York.

A large anime fan convention held in New York last November was not an omicron superspreader event despite instances of the highly contagious variant linked to the gathering, researchers report in two studies of February 18. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Vaccination and masking requirements, social distancing and improved ventilation at the event site likely reduced transmission, the researchers said. The event also benefited from timing, as it happened at the very beginning of the city’s omicron wave when community transmission was low.

In early December, the Minnesota Department of Public Health sounded the alarm about Anime NYC, a convention celebrating Japanese comics and cartoons that drew attendees from across the United States and 30 other countries. The state agency had identified that Minnesota resident Peter McGinn attended the event while infected with omicron.

It was only the second case of omicron identified in the United States – and media slammed the 53,000-person convention as a potential superspreader event when several of McGinn’s friends, who had also attended the convention, tested positive.

But two parallel surveys of the convention found no omicron transmission outside of this group. Contact tracers interviewed McGinn as well as 22 of the 29 friends in her convention group and their family contacts. Meanwhile, a second group of researchers used data from convention organizers to search state and local health databases for positive coronavirus tests among event attendees. The search returned 4,560 results, of which 119 (or 2.6%) were positive.

Of those 119 participants, only 16 cases were linked to McGinn and friends. Five of the 16 cases were sequenced and all were identified as omicron. Apart from this group, 15 other sequenced cases have been identified as delta.

Since less than 1 in 5 positive test samples linked to the convention were sequenced, additional positive results could have been omicron, in addition to the five identified. But the event did not stimulate widespread omicron transmission, the researchers found; the test positivity rate among attendees was similar to the rate for New York City as a whole in the week after the convention, about 3%.

“Good to confirm the event was not a spray event,” McGinn said in an email. “It makes me feel more comfortable going forward to attend these types of events as long as the mask and vax requirements are in place.”

The researchers also found that attendees who tested positive for any version of the coronavirus were more likely to have socialized outside of the convention itself. For example, 18.8% of positive participants had frequented karaoke rooms in the city, compared to 2.4% of participants who tested negative.

Omicron has spread easily at holiday parties, weddings, and even between rooms in a hotel used for coronavirus quarantines. Researchers attribute the lack of spread at the anime convention to layers of safety measures, including a vaccination requirement (at least one dose) for attendees, mandatory masks, and improved ventilation. The Javits Center, where the event took place, installed HEPA air filters throughout the building, among other safety measures; at earlier times in the pandemic, it was used as a COVID-19 hospital and mass vaccination site.

But the new reports contain limited details about the impact those filters had on actual air quality at the site, says Krystal Pollitt, an epidemiologist and environmental health expert at Yale University. Without specific airflow measurements, she says, “it’s hard to know what difference” the filters made.

Additionally, Anime NYC had “a happy coincidence” in its timing, says Ayman El-Mohandes, epidemiologist and dean of the City University of New York’s School of Public Health. Omicron was first identified in New York City sewage samples on November 21, the last day of the convention, placing this event at the very start of the city’s outbreak, when community transmission was weak.

“If this same event had happened two weeks later, it would have been disastrous,” says El-Mohandes. Future large events should add additional layers of safety measures, he says, such as requiring attendees to be fully vaccinated — not just one dose — and test negative before the event.

Originally published by ScienceNews, a non-profit newsroom. Republished here with permission.

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