The Latest: Fear the superspreaders

Alexandra Sifferlin
Medium Coronavirus Blog
3 min readOct 9, 2020


Dear reader,

The biggest Covid-19 story this week continues to be the growing White House cluster(f*ck) which has now hit over 30 people. The full scope of the spread is likely still to be seen, as there’s little to no contact tracing happening and there continues to be a lack of precautions taken by the infected, including the President of the United States.

READ: What’s a ‘Superspreader’ Event, Really?

But there’s been plenty of other Covid-19 drama this week including a clash between the White House and the FDA over stricter guidelines for Covid-19 vaccine approval. The FDA released its recommendations which make a vaccine before the election unlikely. Some experts say they are still not strict enough. Read more below.

Follow our Medium Coronavirus Blog for regular updates, and read some of the essential stories we’ve curated below.

Be well,

Alexandra Sifferlin
Editor, Medium Coronavirus Blog

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What we’re talking about on the blog:

💉 Drama between the White House and the FDA. The biggest vaccine news this week was the in-fighting between the White House and the Food and Drug Administration over vaccine safety guidelines. The White House initially blocked strict new guidelines proposed by the FDA that would have made it difficult for any vaccine candidate to gain approval before Election Day. On Tuesday, however, the FDA guidelines were approved. However, some scientists argue that the new rules aren’t stringent enough and that the follow-up for trial participants should be longer than currently suggested. Here’s more vaccine updates.

How do you know when a cluster is a superspreader event? 😷 As my colleague Yasmin Tayag reports, there’s actually no single, agreed-upon definition of a superspreader event but for Covid-19 it generally implies a case in which someone spreads the virus to significantly more people than the norm, say 20, 30, 50, 100-plus people. While contact tracing is a critical part of many countries’ pandemic control, it’s a difficult task when there are large events, like say, the recent SCOTUS nomination. 👀 “That is why contact tracing and testing are not very useful tools in places in the U.S. with rampant community transmission right now,” one expert says. “You can only do it effectively when community transmission is below a simmer, and a superspreading event is closer to a full boil.” Read all about it.

🦠 Covid-19 was spreading in the U.S. long before anyone knew 🦠 In a stunning interactive feature, the Wall Street Journal reports that based on extensive research and interviews, Covid-19 was very likely spreading in the U.S. at the start of the new year, before experts knew it had arrived. In the first week of January, retrospective testing suggests that a small cluster of people in Ohio developed Covid-like symptoms that were likely infections. By the first week of February, scientists now know that the disease was taking root in New York and that at least seven different strains had arrived mostly from Europe and other U.S. entry points. Read more.

It’s still the first wave 🌊 😱. There’s been a lot of talk of preparing for the “second” wave of Covid-19 infections, but experts argue the U.S. is actually still in the first wave of infections. Roger Shapiro, MD, an associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, suggests people should about the spread of Covid-19 in the U.S. as a wave that went into a pool and now it’s sloshing around. “SARS-CoV-2 is likely to slosh into every untouched corner of the country and flow back into places it’s already been, pushing the number of daily new infections back up near the highs seen during summer, possibly higher,” reports Robert Roy Britt. Anyone else tired of riding this out?

A few more smart reads:

Yes, You Need To Tell People if You Have Covid-19. Here’s How to Do It.

FDA Releases Covid-19 Vaccine Guidelines, and Nobody’s Happy

11 Covid-19 Studies You Should Know About

Vitamin D for Covid-19: New Research Shows Promise

Being a Mail Carrier Right Now Is Unsustainable

Trump’s Covid Response Has Always Been Cruel and Unusual

‘A Devastating Blow’: Virus Kills 81 Members of Native American Tribe (New York Times)



Alexandra Sifferlin
Medium Coronavirus Blog

Health and science journalist. Former editor of Medium’s Covid-19 Blog and deputy editor at Elemental. TIME Magazine writer before that