Researchers in Boston have calculated that an international meeting of Biogen’s leaders in late February may have caused a cascade of 20,000 coronavirus cases in Massachusetts and even more in other states.
Tennessee’s first known case of COVID-19 case was a Biogen executive based in Franklin, who identified himself shortly after public health officials announced the coronavirus had arrived in Tennessee. Initial cases numbering more than 100 were also traced to North Carolina, Indiana, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.
But the Boston-based researchers just focused on four Massachusetts counties. They looked at the genetic sequence of the virus, which includes slight variations over time, allowing them to follow the spread.
By tracking nearly 800 patients, they estimate that 20,000 cases stemmed from the Biogen conference at the Marriott Long Wharf hotel, which has been dubbed a “super-spreader event.” At the time, people were not wearing masks or observing social distance.
More than 100 cases with the same genetic sequence were even traced to a local homeless shelter.
The researchers, whose 64-page study is still being peer reviewed, offer some caveats: They tell the Boston Globe that it’s possible the virus was already ricocheting around Boston and that the Biogen conference was just the most visible event in a cascade that had already begun. But epidemiologists say it’s entirely possible that tens of thousands of cases could be caused by a single event.