Was Homecoming a COVID-19 Superspreader Event?

2 mins read

Last week saw a significant uptick in student COVID-19 cases—a 92% increase from the previous week according to the district COVID-19 dashboard.

This sudden increase raises the question: were the October 22 Homecoming dance and football game superspreader events? Or, as some experts suggest, is the trend a reflection of the new normal as COVID-19 becomes a seasonal virus with cases tracking the flu?

Senior Jackson Bryman tested positive for COVID-19 the morning of Wednesday, October 26. He said, “I did go to Homecoming. Look at me, sacrificing my anti-social nature only to be punished for it! Bad choices, Jackson. Just kidding, I had fun at Homecoming—but I’m not having fun now. I have aches, a fever, and a sore throat.”

M-A students on the packed Homecoming dance floor.

Senior Alexander Pfistner said, “I started feeling sick the Wednesday after Homecoming weekend. In math class on Wednesday afternoon, I was trying to concentrate, but I felt exhausted. It was miserable. I tested positive for COVID that evening.” By the end of the week, Pfistner’s math class was a sea of empty desks: over 30% of his classmates (7/21) stayed home sick on Friday.

Senior Antje Stadelmann, who also attended Homecoming and also tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, said, “I think I got COVID from either the dance or the football game. I was packed super close together with a lot of people in the bleachers at the game and same with the dance.”

At first glance, M-A COVID-19 cases appear to track national influenza cases—both increase on a similar trendline as we head into the flu season. According to research, the influenza virus survives longer in cold, dry air, and is thus better able to infect humans in the fall and winter months. Recent studies demonstrate that the same is likely true for the COVID-19 virus. However, nationally, COVID-19 cases have been generally decreasing over the past six weeks, according to the CDC.

The fact that COVID-19 cases are decreasing nationally but increasing among M-A students suggests that a factor within the school may be at play. The number of students testing positive a few days after Homecoming weekend points to a possible correlation. Homecoming festivities involved crowds of maskless students, where just one “patient zero” could’ve easily infected dozens of others. Over 1,100 students attended the dance at Fox Theater.

Interestingly, M-A is the only high school in the district that experienced a significant surge in COVID-19 cases last week. Nearby schools like Woodside, Carlmont, and Sequoia followed similar student case trendlines to M-A until last week, when M-A cases spiked while Sequoia, Woodside, and Carlmont case counts remained stagnant. Carlmont’s Homecoming was the weekend of October 15th, Sequoia and M-A’s were both the weekend of the 22nd, and Woodside’s was the weekend of the 28th.  

For a superspreader event to occur, at least one contagious person must attend. So, it’s possible that no COVID-positive students attended Carlmont or Sequoia Homecoming events, while one or more contagious students attended the M-A dance or football game. Since Woodside students attended Homecoming this past weekend, their case counts in the weeks to come will be telling.

Both COVID-19 and influenza cases are on the rise at M-A. If it has been at least two months since your last COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot, the CDC recommends getting the most recent updated booster. The shot is free and available at most pharmacies—find a location near you here. Additionally, the CDC recommends the influenza vaccine, which is also free and readily available—find a location near you here.

Stay safe, Bears! And to those out sick, get well soon!

Caroline Pecore is a senior in her first year of journalism. Her column, "Bears Doing Big Things," runs every Monday. She enjoys meeting new people through journalism and writing about the M-A community. Outside of school, she spends most of her time rowing for Norcal Crew and also enjoys reading, drawing, and exploring the outdoors.

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