‘Repeating the same exact mistakes’: Bar linked to COVID-19 outbreak resulting in 46 cases, 650 kids sent home from school

An indoor event celebrating a bar opening in rural Illinois has been linked to a COVID-19 outbreak that resulted in 46 cases and a school closure affecting 650 students, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published Monday.

After an investigation by the Illinois Department of Public Health, the February event was associated to cases in 26 customers and three staff members, which led to an additional 17 secondary cases.

The bar displayed signs that encouraged mask-use and social distancing, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing Monday, but reports indicated patrons were inconsistent in wearing masks and maintaining a safe distance.

“It feels like a bit like Groundhog Day in that we’re seeing another surge that’s really attributed to the same things that contributed to the first surge,” said Dr. Sadiya Khan, an epidemiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “It’s like we’re repeating the same exact mistakes over and over again with periods of pause in between.”

The Illinois public health department discovered one of the cases resulting from the event included a customer who was asymptomatic but received a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis the day before attending.

Another attendee exposed more than two dozen people to the virus at a school during class and a sports practice held indoors. The exposure led to two student athletes testing positive and 13 staff members to quarantine, forcing school officials to send 650 children home and close the school for two weeks.

Another event attendee who worked at a long-term care facility exposed co-workers and residents, infecting one staff member and two residents with COVID-19. One of the residents was hospitalized and discharged the same day. All the staff members and residents who tested positive for COVID-19 were offered the vaccine but did not get vaccinated.

“These findings underscore the vast impact of a single event affecting communities, schools, families and fragile elderly,” Walensky said during the Monday briefing. “It emphasizes the impressive transmissibility of this virus and the continued need for layered prevention strategies.”

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There are likely more cases involved in the outbreak that may have gone unreported, the CDC says, as asymptomatic cases are estimated to account for 40% to 45% of infections.

Khan understands the desire for restaurants and bars to open like normal as the industry has suffered some of the biggest financial blow from the pandemic, but “we’re not there, yet.”

Indoor dining continues to be a source for potential spread and patrons should continue to wear a mask, social distance and opt for outdoor dining whenever possible to reduce the risk of transmission, she said.

“I understand that people are tired and that they are ready for this pandemic to be over, as am I,” Walensky said. “Please continue to hang in there and to continue to do the things that we know prevent the spread of the virus.”

Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.

Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

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