A two-day international business conference in Boston early in the pandemic was likely a super-spreader event that has been linked to as many as 300,000 coronavirus cases worldwide, according to a new scientific study released on Thursday.
The study, published in the journal Science by lead author Jacob Lemieux of Massachusetts General Hospital, found that the event is responsible for roughly 1.6 percent of all U.S. cases since the onset of the pandemic.
According to The Boston Globe, the Biogen conference was held at Boston Marriott Long Wharf hotel between Feb. 26-27 with approximately 175 participants.
Attendees later boarded planes to destinations overseas and across the U.S. but many began feeling sick days later. A public health investigation with contact tracing identified approximately 100 cases directly associated with the conference.
Overall, the unique genetic signature correlated to the virus spreading at the conference has been linked to COVID-19 cases in 29 states and several countries, including Australia, Slovakia, and Sweden.
Through Nov. 1, it is estimated that between 205,000-300,000 COVID-19 cases worldwide are directly linked to the conference.
While Massachusetts accounted for most of the early spread related to the gathering, Florida was hit the hardest with an estimated 71,450 cases linked back to the conference.
“The COVID-19 pandemic had a very direct and personal impact on the Biogen community — as it has on many communities across the country and world,” Biogen said in a statement obtained by the Globe. “Tremendous progress has been made since the start of the pandemic to gain a better understanding of this novel virus and its transmission, develop vaccines, and investigate potential treatment options. As a company rooted in science, we understand the value of the data that came from the first wave of the pandemic in the Boston area and we hope that information gleaned from these data will help continue to drive a better understanding of the transmission of this virus and efforts to address it.”
Lemieux, an infectious disease physician, told the outlet that “the conditions that enable these types of massive super-spreading events to occur are still with us.”
“They’re still possible if we let our guard down. They’re still possible if infected but otherwise healthy people mingle and travel without restriction,” he said in warning.