Editorial: Beware superspreaders

·3 min read

THE decision to cancel Sinulog 2021 activities for the entire month of January may not be popular but it benefits the public.

Since the early 1980s, the Sinulog has become a Cebu brand with international standing, a feat accomplished by local stakeholders in a high-stakes competition with other festivals drawing local and international visitors.

In recent years, the Sinulog has drawn consistently more than a million visitors, a far cry from the first Sinulog parade at Plaza Independencia organized in 1980 by David Odilao Jr. and participated in by Physical Education students and faculty of some local colleges and universities.

The first Sinulog festival in 1981 prefigured the festival of recent years: involving many sectors, fusing the religious and the popular sides of Cebuano culture, drawing participants from outside of Cebu, and involving more than a million visitors for festivities that spread out for an entire month.

Unfortunately, in terms of the transmission of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), the Sinulog fiesta may be potentially a superspreader for the very qualities that make it a world-renowned event.

When applied to an event, a “superspreader” refers to an occurrence when at least one person in attendance has Sars-CoV-2, the virus causing Covid-19, and spreads the disease knowingly or unknowingly to other participants through risk behaviors: not wearing a mask or face shield, not keeping distant from other people, not regularly washing or sanitizing hands, and not testing.

According to Perry N. Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health, the presence of just one virus-positive person can make a superspreader out of a “10-person birthday celebration,” as well as a “100-person wedding.”

Superspreaders made an impact after the Sept. 26, 2020 Rose Garden formal introduction of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, which President Donald Trump attended when he had contracted Covid-19, was followed by the contamination of 34 attendees with ties to the White House.

From the standpoint of public health and general welfare, the cancellation of Sinulog events in January is a major step in avoiding situations that make it difficult or impossible to implement protocols to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the community.

Halkitis said in an article posted on Rutgers.edu that superspreader events have higher risks of virus transmission when participants come from different areas. If contaminated, these persons bring the virus back to their communities.

Ideally, contact information should be gathered from those attending in-person events so tracing can be done once a case of infection is detected. However, in events like the Sinulog, where the flow of people is constant and unpredictable, regulation poses challenges. Even before the pandemic, Sinulog street parties, marked by alcohol consumption and rowdy behavior, threatened peace and order.

Citizens need to cooperate with authorities in taking the necessary steps to stay alive in the pandemic. Tested as effective, the “4Ts”—“target & test, treat & trace”—should guide all stakeholders in deciding whether they need to gather in person or stay virtual and safe.

For Halkitis, isolation is the bitter pill we need to take until a safe and effective vaccine is accessible for everyone. Stay home, stay alive.