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Putting the super in superspreader: Researchers say Covid-19 from that Biogen conference led to widespread infection among Boston homeless, spread around the world

An analysis of the genetic makeup of Covid-19 samples from the early days of the pandemic in Massachusetts suggests a two-day conference at the Marriott Long Wharf provided the spark that set off a Covid-19 conflagration in a state not yet fully prepared to deal with it.

The paper, by researchers associated with Cambridge's Broad Institute, Harvard and Massachusetts General, shows that managers from biotech company Biogen's global offices quickly contracted and began to spread a particular variant of the virus during a conference at the waterside hotel on Feb. 26 and 27 - a strain that had been circulating only in Europe in February, before some managers from Europe came to the Marriott Long Wharf not knowing they had it.

Analysis of samples collected during "universal" testing that started at the Pine Street Inn just two weeks later showed a high percentage of the same variant, the researchers write.

Participants in the meeting eventually spread the Covid-19 strain to several cities in the US and abroad, the researchers write.

The researchers write that, at first, cases in Massachusetts were largely imported from elsewhere - such as the state's first three known cases, a UMass Boston student who returned from Wuhan and somebody who went on a school trip to Italy.

Those first three cases did not result in any spread; all were put into quarantine for two weeks. The genetics show as many as 80 "introductions" from outside the state, at first from other continents, then, as international travel was halted, from the rest of the US.

But by April, it was too late for further "containment" in Massachusetts - by then, there was enough of the virus around here that after April 1, most new Massachusetts cases were the result of people getting it from other people in the state. The strain from the conference, they write, was "a major contributor to sustained community transmission."

Among the places it spread locally: Norwood, where just a couple of days after the Biogent meeting, a number of town officials and workers had to go into quarantine after learning they'd attended a local party on March 1 with a Biogen participant who tested positive. Among them: The town administrator, who himself tested positive a few days later.

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Comments

Stealing links from the Drudge Report now, are we? Hmmmm? Hmmmm?

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you might have just told on yourself

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I've looked at the Drudge Report everyday for the past decade. I don't like their editorial slant and don't recommend it as a primary source but I find they are a great launching point. If they are posting about it and don't link to what I consider a legit source I find a better source.

I find they are much faster than many other sources and often more accurate. I do question the headlines they pull. Like the story may be about a dog that saves a kid but somehow the headline is about some crazy politician that makes a one sentence cameo on the piece.

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Better is the Drudge Retort.

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Matt Drudge sold the site years ago to investors.

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Ever heard of A/B testing? They probably generate 5 or however many headlines, from the most benign, to the craziest one and dynamically show them to visitors, first at random. Then, the algorithm determines which headline gets the most clicks and presents it to everyone.

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That's exactly what they do... Sometimes there will be three headlines that go to the same place. I'm sure that also plays into placement and what's highlighted too.

As a communications person I get it and I understand why it's done but I can still question it's use from a journalistic standpoint. I am a believer that a story and a headline should have some similarities in reality.

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Hard to believe, but I don't read the Drudge Report.

True confession: I first read about the report on bostonglobe.com (which broke the story, if we're giving credit), decided to read the report myself and wrote my own story all by my lonesome. Obviously, I was fascinated by the link between the Biogen meeting and the Pine Street Inn, so went with that angle (then threw in the stuff about Norwood, which I was writing about as it was happening way back in March).

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I read about it on the Washington Post, so drudge clearly didn't get an exclusive here

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How do they know it was only this introduction? I was under the impression that travelers arriving and returning during February - not just the Biogen ones - spread this strain in the area.

I'm skeptical that this was the only introduction responsible for the entire outbreak. There is a substantial amount of corporate travel at any time, plus personal travel that happens in February with the school vacation break.

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And I realize it gets kind of scientific-ish and stuff, but stick with it and you'll see they were able to determine its uniqueness by looking at specific sequences in its genetic code, which I gather are sort of like viral fingerprints.

You're right, this was not the only strain to infect Massachusetts - in their samples, they found evidence of numerous other strains - but that this is the one that appeared to trigger community spread in at least the Boston area (they did not spend much time on the community infection going on in the Pittsfield area around the same time). Earlier cases were people who arrived here already infected and whose transmission chains were stopped by isolating them (e.g., the guy at UMass Boston). After Biogen, though, the thing spread like wildfire (e.g., the Pine Street Inn results and the Norwood cases).

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When viruses (like any life) reproduce, there are mistakes in copying the genetic material. These mutations happen at a pretty reliable rate, and if they're harmless they're usually preserved in future generations. You can track where/when they first appear in the record and where/when they show up subsequently and have pretty good confidence that matching mutations indicate a descendant relationship.

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It's an interesting if moot claim, isn't it?

It's amazing what science will tell you.

We definitely need more research such as this.

For this one specifically, I hope the research can be vetted and the authors' article published.

I remember back months ago, I think I read that the Biogen "infections" had cleared by the time positive cases started increasing, meaning it was "someone else" who brought it here. But either that claim was disputed or, more likely, there's a lot more data to examine now.

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the Biogen "infections" had cleared

What does this mean?

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I remember reading that one study from a few months ago talked about the Biogen conference and how anyone who was infected then was probably infectious for 14 days afterwards but that there were no new outbreaks noticed during the first two weeks of March so the conclusion drawn was that the infections had "died out". Meaning that there was another source that led to more outbreaks that led to more outbreaks, and so on and so on.

I think the study mentioned above had more data to examine (more strains) so could track it more closely.

Also, your nana didn't die because there was a single conference at a single hotel in February.

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If the homeless population was infected so largely than why weren't there massive deaths of the homeless from Corona?

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Then again, most people who contract the virus don't die from it. Whether they suffer long-term problems is another question.

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I've read from reputable sources that entire populations may have very few people getting sick because of their ongoing exposure to other agents or vaccines that trigger a useful immune response to Covid-19.

Since the homeless don't typically live in the most hygienic environment, maybe they are getting a break on this one?

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/mmr-vaccine-could-prevent-wors...

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Did any of Biogen parties have relatives at Holyoke nursing home that they visited after the conference at Long Wharf?

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sick for 4 weeks starting early march

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I sweated alot in March.
Not sure that means I experienced COVID-19.

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