- Two separate “super-spreader” events in the US and Europe show that stigma might be contributing to the coronavirus pandemic.
- The coronavirus began to spread in the wealthy neighborhood of Westport, Connecticut, after a lavish birthday party attended by international travelers.
- Vacationers at the affluent ski resort of Ischgl, Austria, spread the coronavirus across six countries.
- Some Westport residents didn’t speak up about exposure, while Austrian authorities downplayed the infections at the ski resort. Both had reputations to protect.
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Stigma might be partly responsible for the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
In both the US and Europe, two possible “super-spreader” events in high-end regions – Westport, Connecticut, and Ischgl, Austria – have caused the coronavirus to escalate.
The term “super-spreader” refers to a person or event extremely likely to spread a disease, according to Reuters, but virus experts say there isn’t evidence of this. The World Health Organization doesn’t use “super-spreading” as a technical term, but says that “there can be incidents of transmission where a large number of people can become infected from a common source.”
Both places welcomed travelers, involved some partying, and boasted some very large crowds. But, in both cases, some people were too afraid to speak up.
A wealthy soirée kicked off the coronavirus in Westport, Connecticut
In Westport, Connecticut – one of the wealthiest communities in America – it all began at a lavish birthday soirée on March 5. Before the coronavirus became a pandemic and before social distancing became widely enforced in the US, 50 guests from South Africa to New York City came together for the party, Elizabeth Williamson and Kristin Hussey at The New York Times reported.
At the time, they wrote, there were no reported cases of the coronavirus in the town. But by March 19, 20 party attendees had tested positive. Officials gave up contact tracing because it became out of control; one partygoer, officials told The Times, later admitted to attending a 420-person event after the Westport party.
Not everyone was so forthcoming with information. Connecticut Sen. Will Haskell told The Times that he received a call from a woman who still hadn’t heard back about her test results, and whose family was exposed to the virus, wanting to know if she should tell the people she had interacted with because she was worried about “social stigma.”
“As the disease spread, many residents kept mum, worried about being ostracized by their neighbors and that their children would be kicked off coveted sports teams or miss school events,” Williamson and Hussey wrote. As one partygoer told them, “It seems that the real problem is now the people who are too scared to say anything.”
Officials said that hundreds of Westport residents were exposed to COVID-19, the disease the coronavirus causes, before it was reported, according to Patch. As of April 1, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Fairfield County, where Westport is located, was 1,870 and doubling every three days. Statewide, confirmed cases are 3,128, also as of April 1.
An affluent Austrian ski resort spread coronavirus to 6 countries
Meanwhile, hundreds of early coronavirus cases in Germany, Iceland, the UK, Norway, Denmark, and Ireland can all be traced back to the wealthy ski resort of Ischgl, according to Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine.
Located in the mountainous Austrian region of Tyrol, Ischgl is known for its bustling après-ski party scene. It sees 500,000 visitors every winter, including high-profile figures such as Paris Hilton, Naomi Campbell, and Bill Clinton, according to Denise Hruby for CNN. Drinking games there helped spread the virus, she wrote.
Even though Iceland authorities said on March 4 that a group of its citizens were infected with the coronavirus after an Ischgl trip and a bartender in the area tested positive on March 8, Hruby wrote, Austrian authorities didn’t quarantine the resort until March 13. They also issued a series of statements that downplayed the virus, including there’s “no reason to worry,” it was “unlikely” there was contagion, and they were “able to contain” the chain of infections.
But the outbreak had spread. Jan Pravsgaard Christensen, professor of immunology of infectious diseases, told Hruby it was “impossible” to determine the number of infected cases. According to the most recent figures Hruby found on March 24, 298 of 1,400 confirmed cases in Denmark and 892 of 1,742 confirmed cases in Norway were traced to Ischgl.
The resort is under investigation in connection with allegations of covering up a suspected infection as early as February. And Tyrol’s government is now facing legal action for how it handled the Ischgl outbreak, Business Insider’s Mia Jancowitz reported.
Both Ischgl and the people of Westport wanted to protect their reputations
Although far from each other, these two super-spreader outbreaks share something in common: They both happened in locations that attract the affluent and the elite.
In both cases, there was a reputation to protect. In Westport, some residents feared the loss of their social status and were afraid to speak up about being exposed to the coronavirus. In Ischgl, it’s feasible that authorities wanted to preserve the prestige and popularity of the resort, afraid of tainting its name.
Mingling in lavish parties and vacationing at ski resorts are perfect examples of how wealthy people may be more likely to get exposed to the coronavirus because of their frequent international travel and attendance at large events, Business Insider’s Taylor Nicole Rogers previously reported.
The wealthy have also been socially chastised for fleeing to vacation homes in different cities during the pandemic. One 34-year-old mother told Business Insider she was renting a home adjacent to a golf course for $12,000 a month in Palm Springs. And wealthy Manhattanites have escaped the city for the Hamptons, much to the dismay of locals who don’t want them spreading the coronavirus there.
The means and mobility of the weathly is a double-edged sword. For the well-off, it gives them the advantage of making their quarantine lives more enjoyable. But for the rest of the world, it’s fueling the spread of the coronavirus – especially if they’re not transparent about it.