As governors across the country ban get-togethers during the holiday season, scientists say the available data do not support the idea that such gatherings are to blame for the recent surge in coronavirus cases, according to The New York Times.
The report Monday noted that some political leaders and public health officials have claimed the rise in COVID-19 cases is a result of unmasked people sitting too closely in their homes.
“It’s those informal, private gatherings where we’re seeing the ignition taking off in terms of the infection rate,” Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut said Nov. 5 as he announced that such events would be restricted to no more than 10 people.
“This is being driven by individual behaviors at this point,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNN in October.
“We’ve got to keep focused on washing our hands, watching our distance and wearing our face coverings when we can’t watch our distance and in particular being careful in household gatherings. This has become a major vector of disease spread,” he said.
However, while household gatherings do contribute to community transmission of the virus, many epidemiologists have said there is little evidence to support the claim that household gatherings are causing the majority of infections because it has become harder to pinpoint any source of a new outbreak.
“Somebody says something, and somebody else says it, and then it just becomes the truth,” infectious disease epidemiologist Julia Marcus told The Times.
“I worry about this narrative that doesn’t yet seem to be data-based,” she said.
Few states report detailed information about what has led to the new outbreak, but the states that do have indicated that long-term care facilities, food processing plants, prisons, health care settings, and bars and restaurants are the leading sources.
While large gatherings such as weddings have led to infection among guests in Maine and Washington, the same cannot be said for small private gatherings of friends and family, The Times reported.
Only 81 active cases of COVID-19 in Colorado could be attributed to social gatherings, while 4,000 came from correctional centers and jails, 3,300 from colleges and universities, about 2,400 from assisted living facilities and 450 from restaurants, bars, casinos and bowling alleys.
Social events in Louisiana account for only 1.7 percent of the 3,300 cases in the state, according to the report.
Despite the data, many states have placed restrictions on the size of social gatherings or the involvement of people from different households.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has mandated that residents can have a maximum of only 10 people inside their own homes.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s order is even stricter, with social gatherings in homes limited to no more than six people. The Democrat has urged state residents to call the police if their neighbors violate her rules.
“It seems like they’re passing off the responsibility for controlling the outbreak to individuals and individual choices,” Boston University epidemiologist Ellie Murray said.
“A pandemic is more a failure of the system than the failure of individual choices,” she said.
Marcus said that while warning people about the dangers of social gatherings might help them understand the seriousness of the situation, it has led to draconian policies in some states that are not backed up with science.
“Identifying any one activity as the driver of the surge misses the fact that all activities become riskier as local case levels rise,” Murray said.
“Household gatherings would be much safer if officials put stricter limits on commercial and nonresidential activities.
“They are choosing not to, and then saying the fault lies with individuals.”
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.