One of the earliest identified “superspreading” outbreaks of Covid-19 in the United States—an international conference for the drug company Biogen—may be linked to up to an estimated 20,000 cases of the coronavirus in Massachusetts by early May, according to scientists at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard who helped publish new research on the spread of the virus in the greater Boston area.
The Marriott Long Wharf hotel in Boston played host to an international conference for Biogen in late February, around the time other events were being cancelled by the oncoming threat of the pandemic, and by the end of March, 99 people connected to the meeting were confirmed for the virus.
In a new study that has yet to be peer-reviewed, researchers analyzed 772 cases of Covid-19 in four Massachusetts counties, including all infections confirmed during the first week of the epidemic.
While not included in the study, three scientists involved in the research estimate that around 20,000 people in Suffolk, Middlesex, Norfolk and Essex counties were likely infected due to spread from the Biogen conference.
The outbreak occurred because one individual likely was infected in Europe in February before traveling to Boston and spread the virus to other attendees, according to the research paper.
The researchers also write that the virus was exported to several states, including Virginia, North Carolina and Texas, and other countries, like Australia, Sweden and Slovakia.
In total, Massachusetts has recorded 116,421 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, as well as 8,717 reported deaths, according to data from the state.
“I’m confident that the scale for measuring this event is in the tens of thousands,” Dr. Jacob Lemieux, an infectious disease doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital and one of the researchers told the Boston Globe.
Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency on March 10, and President Trump called a national emergency on March 13. While cases of the virus were confirmed in January, inaction throughout February caught the federal government flat-footed when cases exploded in March and led to the worst outbreak in the world. Speaking on the conference, Baker said Tuesday, “It speaks to the power of that virus to move from one person to another to another to another, if people wear masks, don’t social distance, don’t take seriously the fact that the fundamental strength of COVID-19 its ability to get from one person to the next,” according to NBC Boston.
Hotels have been part of other superspreading locations like meat packing plants and nursing homes. The hotel industry, as well as other travel-related businesses, took a massive hit due to the pandemic. Marriott in particular saw its revenue per available room fall 90% in April, causing the company to furlough two-thirds of its corporate employees.