Karaoke Party Turned Superspreader Event Left 50 People Infected and 2 Dead

A karaoke night at social club in Palm Coast, Florida, was the site of COVID-19 "superspreader" event that resulted in around 50 infections and at least two deaths.

Officials traced dozens of infections to an event that took place at the Palm Coast Social Club on the evening of August 28, according to to the Flagler County Health Department. Many attendees were not wearing masks or following social distancing rules, while people engaged in singing, which is considered a high-risk activity when it comes to the spread of COVID-19, FlaglerLive reported.

"This is actually a pretty dramatic event. It's really a tragedy," Stephen Bickel, medical director at the Flagler health department, told the local news outlet. "It's certainly profound ignorance of the risk. The public may not be aware of what a risk this is. I thought they did, but maybe not.

"I know that churches are not having singing in their services because of this kind of stuff. I don't know if people realize it, but karaoke is as bad or worse, because they do it for a long period of time, you're in a closed space."

While scientists still have much to learn about COVID-19, evidence suggests that superspreader events—where one person infects many people in rapid succession—have played an outsized role in the spread of the virus. It is estimated that between 10 and 20 percent of infected people are responsible for around 80 percent of virus transmission.

Gloria April, the secretary of the social club, said they tried to disperse people during the karaoke night on August 28, but their efforts were largely in vain. "We opened up the big room and tried to have people go into the big room and they didn't want to go," April told FlaglerLive. "They wanted to stay in the smaller area."

The club was supposed to operate at 50 percent capacity on the night, and attendees were asked to wear masks and practice social distancing.

But while "almost everybody" wore a mask when they entered, people started taking them off over the course of the evening, according to April. Florida recommends the use of face masks but does not require them for the general public.

"It's very difficult to get people to keep their mask on," April said. Club officials also found it difficult to enforce social distancing. "One table had 12 people at it and she tried to get the people to not sit, to disperse at that table, to bring it down to 6," April said, referring to the efforts of one staff member. "People want to sit together," she said. "You know, you can't shoot people."

Flagler County health department chief Bob Snyder told FlaglerLive the superspreader event resulted in "dozens of cases, two deaths, one person in hospice, a few hospitalizations," while additional cases are also emerging.

The two fatalities were a 69-year-old woman and a 74-year-old man who died as a result of COVID-19-related infections that were linked to the karaoke night, according to Snyder.

The superspreader event has contributed to a spike in coronavirus cases in the county—nearly 400 cases since the start of the month—alongside school reopenings and an increase in infections at long-term care facilities, according to the health department.

Flagler county currently has the second lowest rate of infection per 100,000 people out of all 67 Florida counties, according to the state's Department of Health. In total, Florida has confirmed more than 680,000 coronavirus cases and recorded over 13,400 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

"Comparatively speaking, we are doing well in contrast to other counties in the state," Snyder told the Palm Coast Observer. "It is true that for the last three or four weeks, we have experienced a spike in the county by the results of about seven or eight indicators we have been tracking."

"The positivity rate, the increase in cases, the increase in COVID-like symptoms for ER visits, hospitalizations—these things have been tracking higher than usual for the last three, four weeks."

The Palm Coast Social Club closed on September 1 due to "renovations and deep sanitization," according to a Facebook post that did not mention COVID-19.

"I'm devastated that it's our club that's being pushed out there because we were so careful, and it was just this one night that it happened," April said. "It could have happened any place, not just ours. I've done everything that we can to prevent anything in the future."

karaoke
Stock image: A karaoke night in Florida turned into a COVID-19 superspreader event. iStock