This is the story of a person in Chicago, at the end of February, when the United States believed that it was still protected from Covid-19, which had not yet been declared a pandemic. This person had some mild respiratory symptoms, but not to the point of worrying, let alone confining himself.
This person, anonymized in a survey published Wednesday by the United States Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), is invited to a funeral of a family friend and decides to participate. The day before the funeral, she goes to dinner with friends. For three hours, the three share a meal taken from a restaurant. They are served in the same dishes.
The next day, the day of the funeral, it is at a buffet that this “patient index” is used to eat, probably using the same utensils. He offers his condolences to the bereaved family, takes at least three relatives of the dead.
Three days after the funeral, he still has mild symptoms, which are not detailed in the investigation. He still goes to a birthday party, this time in his own family. The virus, which he carries inside him without knowing it, will wreak havoc.
A circle of patients which causes a second
There are nine people at the party. All come into “close contact” with each other. For three hours, they kiss and share the same food.
Of the nine present, seven will catch the coronavirus that day. Two will fall so seriously ill that they will be hospitalized. Three weeks after the birthday, these two will be dead.
They are not the only ones to fall into this catastrophic chain of communications: the two hosts of the first take-away dinner were also infected that evening; one of them will eventually die, 27 days after the meal.
Worse, the first circle of the sick caused a second. People who took care of several first sick people did not protect themselves with masks or gloves, and were themselves infected. And three birthday party guests, although sick, went to church later, after six days of symptoms.
Fifteen people infected in three weeks
At the church, they touched and passed the quest basket to their pew neighbors. A believer, seated for 90 minutes at a row apart, is the last person identified in this “cluster” by epidemiologist investigators from the CDC and Illinois.
In total, the index patient, who never needed to see a doctor, infected, directly and indirectly, at least 15 people in three weeks, three of whom died. The Illinois containment order will not arrive until March 21, several days after the last such contamination.
The story illustrates the importance of social distancing, and the high and invisible contagiousness of the new coronavirus, which scientists are still trying to quantify exactly, between the highly contagious measles or the least contagious flu.
At the beginning of the epidemic, the consensus was that it was mainly transmitted by postillions and sneezing, and by touching a soiled surface, where the virus can stay a few days, according to the materials.
Then it appeared that people without symptoms were also responsible for a good part of the contaminations, probably by the air they exhale, and recently the United States and other countries recommended to their populations to cover themselves face away from home, to prevent people with or with few symptoms from unwittingly killing people they meet.