How coronavirus 'super-spreaders' may pass COVID-19 to others

John Roberts on President Trump testing positive for coronavirus: He was ‘extremely cautious’

President Trump testing positive for COVID-19, as have many other world leaders, shows that anyone can be exposed to the virus.

Part of what has driven the coronavirus’ spread is what some doctors call “super-spreaders,” a colloquial term that refers to both the people who spread the virus to a significant group, as well as the events where the virus is passed to such groups, who then pass it on to others.

The news of President Trump and first lady Melania Trump's diagnosis has sent many leaders and advisers to get tested.

Dr. Jake Deutsch, the clinical director of Cure Urgent Care centers in New York City, who has been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, reiterated in a statement to Fox News that "no one is immune."


"The vigilance still needs to be there," said Deutsch, who has previously been infected with coronavirus as well. "People are still getting sick. If somebody at the highest level of power in the United States is going to be exposed, we all need to assume we can be too."

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19, the president confirmed early on Friday morning. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Deutsch added that some are also speculating as to whether Trump could be linked to a super-spreader case.

“I think that we’re going to find that there’s going to be a number of infections in his Cabinet and his close contacts,” Deutsch told Fox News. “It’s inevitable. He made it clear he didn’t think masks were necessary when you’re around people you know. And as we’re aware from practicing medicine and testing patients, that’s not the case.”


Super-spreader events have been linked to both “explosive” growth in early virus outbreaks as well as sustained spread later on, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report. Speed is “essential” in preventing and controlling super-spreaders, first in recognizing the contagious parties and then carrying out control and containment measures.

The CDC identified and researched several super-spreader events earlier in the course of the coronavirus pandemic. They show how the virus can spread even in places where people feel comfortable, and with people they know. In March, 32 of the 61 people who attended a choir practice in Skagit County, Washington, caught COVID-19, and another 20 cases were linked to the event. Close proximity and singing at the practice contributed to the spread. Three of the people were hospitalized, and two died.

And in Arkansas, 35 of 92 attendees at a rural church were diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Three of them died, and another 26 cases and one death in the same community were also linked back to the church.

In order to avoid becoming a super-spreader, Deutsch recommended people take precautions, like minimizing exposure to others, and wearing masks.

"I think everybody should take matters into their own hands," he said. "It doesn't matter whether it's your boss or it's the president, wearing a mask works and being told you don't need to wear one because you're familiar with one another is just not good advice."

Even people following health and safety precautions can fall victim to super-spreader events. A summer camp held in Georgia in June followed state guidelines that required everyone to test negative before arriving. Still, one of the campers began displaying symptoms. Hundreds of teenagers and staff members who attended tested positive for COVID-19.

"If you're in an environment where you're around multiple people not wearing masks, you're basically a sitting duck," Deutsch said.

Super-spreader events have been linked to both the “explosive” growth early in virus outbreaks as well as sustained spread later on. (iStock)


The term “super-spreader” itself is not a scientific phrase, but a conversational one, Dr. Robert Amler, the dean of New York Medical College’s School of Health Sciences and Practice, previously told Fox Business.

A super-spreader could be someone infected with the virus who coughs a lot, spreading more droplets with the virus further and to more people, according to Amler. Or it could be someone with an underlying medical condition that causes them to carry the virus longer. It could even be someone who simply encounters many people. And because people with the virus may be asymptomatic, it’s also possible someone not showing signs of infection could also be a super-spreader.

“It's more of a colloquial term that epidemiologists and public health responders use to describe a situation where someone in a population or in a community seems to have spread the disease a lot more than most of the others,” he said.

The coronavirus spreads through droplets and airborne particles suspended in the air and inhaled, according to the CDC. (iStock)


There is some debate in the medical community about using the term, at least pertaining to individuals rather than events. The World Health Organization doesn’t use it because it “implies that a particular person” is inherently able to more easily pass the disease to others, Reuters reported.

“We don’t want to stigmatize people or blame people,” Amler told Fox Business. “People are sick, they’re trying not to be sick. And if you think back to times when you’ve been sick, it’s hard to not infect the people around you. You do your best, but it’s hard.”

The best way to avoid being exposed to a super-spreader and avoid becoming one is to stay home, according to Amler.

“Do everything you can to block that exposure and then, as you’re doing that, my other two recommendations are: use common sense and do the best you can,” he said.

Fox News' Ann Schmidt contributed to this report.

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