Superspreader wedding in Calgary, surging COVID infection numbers spur calls for tighter rules

In the aftermath of a wedding that became a COVID-19 superspreading event, some experts are calling for officials in Alberta to enact tighter restrictions on social gatherings.

At least 49 active cases of COVID-19 have been linked to a wedding with 63 attendees held earlier this month in Calgary. 

Aggressive contact tracing is underway to identify anyone who may have been exposed and ensure they are isolating and getting tested. Anyone at risk is being contacted directly by Alberta Health Services. 

And on Tuesday, Alberta reported 323 new cases of COVID-19 and one more death, again breaking the record for the number of active cases and prompting Dr. Deena Hinshaw to say Alberta is in a “danger zone.”

It’s all a recipe for concern, says Dr. Joe Vipond, an ER physician in Calgary and a co-founder of the Masks4Canada advocacy group.

Dr. Leyla Asadi, an infectious diseases physician at the University of Alberta, says it’s time for the province to tighten up restrictions in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. (CBC)

“This can explode if we let our guard down,” he said.

“We just seem to be failing to learn from other places when they were at this level of the curve, and with exponential growth, things are going to get worse unless we put new measures in place.”

The measures Vipond would like to see include limiting indoor gatherings to five people, and mandatory masking across the province.

Dr. Leyla Asadi, an infectious diseases physician at the University of Alberta, is also worried.

“The numbers are very concerning to me and highly suggestive of us having entered into the second wave, or the fall wave of COVID-19 infections,” she said.

“If we allow the virus to continue spreading, there will be more of these events.” 

Asadi says Alberta should emulate parts of Ontario’s Modified Stage 2 restrictions, under which all social gatherings and public events are limited to a maximum of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. 

Alberta’s current rules state that 100 people are allowed at indoor events where people are seated, like wedding ceremonies, and 50 people are allowed for indoor social gatherings such as wedding receptions and birthday parties.

But Asadi says Alberta likely won’t need to resort to a widespread lockdown because experts know more about the virus than they did in the spring.

“So we know with this virus, there tends to be superspreading events. So if we can focus on areas where we think transmission is most likely, we can have targeted intervention that can hopefully allow us to gain control of the spread again,” she said.

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Calgary wedding resulted in at least 49 COVID-19 cases: Alberta Health

Alberta Health says 49 active COVID-19 cases have been linked to a wedding in Calgary earlier this month.

The health agency says the wedding had a large number of Albertans from different households.

Alberta Health spokesman Tom McMillan says aggressive contact tracing is underway to identify anyone who may have been exposed to make sure they are isolating and getting tested.

Read more:
What’s a COVID-19 close contact?

He did not say how many people attended the wedding and says specifics about individual cases cannot be disclosed because of patient confidentiality.

COVID-19 restrictions implemented by the province say a maximum of 100 people can attend outdoor and indoor seated events, such as wedding ceremonies, funeral services, movie theatres, indoor arts and culture performances.

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Albertans with COVID-19 becoming more uncooperative during contact tracing: Hinshaw


Albertans with COVID-19 becoming more uncooperative during contact tracing: Hinshaw

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings.

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“This is a reminder to all Albertans that this virus is still here and any social gathering carries a risk of exposure,” he said in an email Tuesday.

“It is important that nobody attend if they are feeling ill with even mild symptoms, or if they are awaiting test results.”

Read more:
Why contact tracing becomes ‘impossible’ as coronavirus cases surge

He says it is also important that organizers do everything possible to comply with the public health guidance in place, including having enough space for physical distancing between cohorts, following gathering size restrictions and avoiding sharing food and utensils.

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Calgary ‘superspreader’ wedding responsible for at least 49 cases of COVID-19



a dining table filled with wine glasses: At least 49 cases of COVID-19 are tied to an outbreak at a Calgary wedding this month.


© Shutterstock / sigiuz
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 are tied to an outbreak at a Calgary wedding this month.

At least 49 active cases of COVID-19 have been linked to a wedding held earlier this month in Calgary. 

It comes as Alberta hits its highest case numbers ever — 3,138 active cases, 998 of which are in Calgary. 

The wedding featured a large number of Albertans from different households, Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said.

Aggressive contact tracing is underway to identify anyone who may have been exposed and ensure they are isolating and getting tested, and anyone at risk is being contacted directly by Alberta Health Services. 

McMillan said Alberta Health can’t comment on specifics about individual cases due to patient confidentiality, but he did say it’s not yet clear what led to the level of exposure and that an investigation is underway.

Reminder that ‘this virus is still here’ 

Several recent outbreaks in Calgary have been linked to social gatherings, he said, adding that no one should attend a gathering if they have even mild symptoms or are awaiting test results. 

“This is a reminder to all Albertans that this virus is still here and any social gathering carries a risk of exposure. This is true for both planned events, like wedding receptions, or informal get-togethers in a house or community space,” McMillan said. 

“It is also important that organizers of social gatherings do everything possible to comply with the public health guidance in place, including ensuring that there is enough space for physical distancing between cohorts, following gathering size restrictions and avoiding sharing food and utensils.”

Dr. Craig Jenne, an infectious disease expert with the University of Calgary, said based on the high transmission numbers, he would consider this event a “superspreader.”

“Although 49 cases may not seem like a huge number, we have to keep in mind that these people have perhaps had continual contact with others after the wedding … if each person passes [COVID-19] on to two, three, four other people, we may be looking at an event that has now led to 200, 300 or more cases in the community. And again, each of those cases has the potential to spread it further,” he said.

“We also have to keep in mind that many of these gatherings … probably have a significant number of people that are in at-risk groups — older parents, grandparents.”

Jenne said while it’s worth looking at whether guidelines like physical distancing, mask-wearing and attendance numbers were followed, ultimately, having large indoor gatherings right now simply isn’t safe. 

“The virus doesn’t really care that you wore a mask until you sat down at the table … you have 100 people eating in the same room and multiple people at tables, this really creates an opportunity for the virus to move around,” he said.

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