Happy birthday, I got you COVID! How a party turned into a super-spreader event

June 10, 2021

This article has not been updated recently

Like so many of us, Annie (not her real name) had been itching to get back to seeing her friends after more than a year of endless lockdowns. So when one of them turned 30, it seemed like a perfect excuse to get the gang together for a party. 

In line with current restrictions, they booked an outdoor space in a local pub for 30 guests. 

Although they intended to be careful, the area they’d booked was too small to socially distance. As the good times rolled on - and humans being humans - the friends spoke loudly to each other across the confined space. And yes, there were hugs.

Since the party, 17 of the 30 people there that night have tested positive for COVID-19. 

“We'd all become quite complacent”

Some of them haven’t felt ill at all, others have had fever, coughing, tiredness, aches and pains, and lost their sense of smell. 

There have been cancelled holidays and hen parties, ruined plans and frustrating self-isolation. 

It’s been particularly tough for those who live alone in cramped flats, who were just starting to enjoy life coming back to normal.

“We'd all become quite complacent especially as until recently we hadn't heard of anyone we know getting it in the last few months,” says Annie. 
“It's also scary that a few of the positive cases are in people who have had one or two vaccines - usually AstraZeneca rather than Pfizer - although I think their symptoms are milder than those who aren't vaccinated.”

An unexpected surprise

It’s not entirely clear who brought this unwanted birthday gift to the party, but there are suspicions. 

One young woman had a sore throat, which can sometimes be a symptom of COVID, but none of the other more obvious signs like cough, fever or loss of smell (anosmia). She had also taken a lateral flow test before she went, which was negative. 

While it’s impossible to know exactly what happened in this case, it’s clear that COVID is still out there. And it’s becoming ever more apparent that the now dominant Delta variant is very easy to catch. 

As numbers grow, sadly and inevitably, deaths will rise too.

Even though younger people are less likely to become seriously ill from the disease and only a small proportion will end up in hospital, rates are rising quickly in this group. Importantly, they are also most likely to be unvaccinated or have received only a single dose.

And although a significant proportion of older folk and those with underlying health conditions have now been vaccinated, no vaccine provides 100% protection. 

Feel sick? Stay home

Many people are now aware of the ‘classic three’ symptoms of COVID: cough, fever and loss of smell. But there are less obvious signs to look out for. 

The ZOE COVID Study has shown that there are at least 20 symptoms of COVID, including tiredness, headaches, sore throat, skin rashes and more. 

Curiously, we recently found that sneezing was also symptom of infection, particularly in those who have already been vaccinated

The most recent data also shows that in the under 40s, the most common symptoms associated with a positive COVID test are headache, sore throat, runny nose, fever and cough - things that most of us might mistake for a mild cold, rather than a highly transmissible virus. 

The more cases that are around, the greater the risk to all and the longer it will take us to get back to life as normal. 

As we start to socialise more, it’s essential that we don’t take risks with our own health or the health of those around us, especially if we’re not yet fully vaccinated. 

It’s tough at a time when we all want to be getting out and about after being cooped up for far too long, but we need a culture shift, not simply to return to the way things were. 

If the COVID pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need to do away with the ‘stiff upper lip’ that makes us feel like we have to go out or to work when we don’t feel well.

Right now, while rates are rising again, the message is clear: if you feel ill - even just a little bit - stay home and stop the spread. 

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