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Masks And Vaccines Prevented NYC Anime Convention From Becoming A Covid Superspreader Event, CDC Finds

Masks And Vaccines Prevented NYC Anime Convention From Becoming A Covid Superspreader Event, CDC Finds

The coronavirus didn’t circulate widely at a massive New York City anime convention in November that was famously linked to one of the first U.S. cases of the virus’ omicron variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed in a study Thursday, a feat the health agency credited to the event’s indoor mask policy and Covid-19 vaccine mandate.

People wait in line to receive Covid-19 tests on January 4 in New York.

AFP via Getty Images

Key Facts

The CDC tracked down coronavirus test results for 4,560 of the Anime NYC convention’s more than 50,000 attendees, just 119 (or 2.6%) of which came back positive, meaning “evidence of widespread transmission during the event was not identified” (the CDC didn’t identify the convention by name, but its description matched Anime NYC).

Only one person with Covid-19 ended up in the hospital, and no deaths were reported.

The CDC thinks the convention’s strict Covid-19 mitigation rules—attendees needed to wear masks and show proof of partial coronavirus vaccination—and the Javits Center’s air filtration system probably helped prevent the virus from spreading uncontrollably.

Some transmission may have taken place outside the convention hall: Attendees who caught Covid-19 were more likely to report visiting bars (16.7% of positives and 6.9% of negatives), nightclubs (10.4% versus 3%) or karaoke venues (18.8% versus 2.4%).

A separate CDC study published Thursday zeroed in on a Minnesota man who attended Anime NYC and later became the second person in the United States diagnosed with omicron: Out of a group of 30 people that included the Minnesota man and 29 close contacts from the convention, 23 took coronavirus tests and 16 tested positive, most of whom also visited bars, restaurants and karaoke venues.

The CDC says its study of the convention had a few limitations. In particular, while around 53,000 people purportedly attended the event, researchers could only send surveys and look for Covid-19 test results for roughly 35,000 with available contact information. The study also looked for positive tests by matching attendees’ names and addresses with local Covid-19 surveillance data, meaning at-home tests and some other records may not have been included. 

At the time of Anime NYC, the delta variant made up almost all U.S. coronavirus cases. Likewise, out of 20 positive tests from the convention whose genomes were sequenced, 75% were linked to delta and 25% were caused by omicron—and all omicron cases were in the Minnesota man’s group. If the highly contagious omicron variant was dominant in New York at the time of the convention, transmission may have been higher, the CDC cautioned Thursday.

Key Background
Health officials in Minnesota disclosed an Anime NYC-related omicron case in early December, just one day after the nation’s first omicron-positive patient was discovered in California. Within weeks, omicron accounted for the vast majority of the country’s coronavirus infections, fueled a record-breaking surge in daily Covid-19 cases and forced officials in states like New York and California to reintroduce mask-wearing rules. Researchers think omicron causes less severe disease than previous variants, but its increased transmissibility still helped drive U.S. hospitalizations to record levels and cause an uptick in Covid-19 deaths.

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