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Javits Center convention organizers can breathe easier after a new CDC study showed that, despite the attendance of the first recorded US Omicron patient, a 53,000-person November Anime convention was unlikely to have been a superspreader event.
Of the 34,451 attendees who had provided contact information, CDC officials were able to survey and obtain test results from 4,560 attendees, 119 (2.6%) of whom tested positive for COVID-19. Additionally, 75% of positive cases were of the Delta variant rather than the even more transmissible Omicron.
“Findings from this survey and a related cluster investigation of a portion of attendees suggest transmission occurred primarily among social circles and during indoor unmasked activities during the event rather than at official event activities,” reported the CDC.
According to the study, attendees from the convention who tested positive were more likely to have also participated in unmasked activities including indoor dining, attending bars, karaoke, and nightclubs. Of the 4,560 respondents, 4,041 (95.2%) reported wearing a mask at all times while indoors. All 53,000 attendees were required to have proof of at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and the Javits Center was outfitted with HEPA filters.
The report concluded that “these findings reinforce the importance of implementing multiple, simultaneous prevention measures, such as ensuring up-to-date vaccination, mask use, physical distancing, and improved ventilation in limiting SARS-CoV-2 transmission, including highly transmissible Delta and Omicron variants, during large indoor events.”
Despite the optimistic findings, there are biases within the CDC data — the survey was self-reported, and attendees who responded could already have been predisposed to be or report their behavior as more cautious. The CDC was only able to contact registered ticket buyers, which limited test results. Additionally, the convention occurred before the peak of the omicron surge, making it difficult to assess what the spread among its vaccinated attendees would have been had the event been held later.
Yet, the CDC’s findings also reflected those of New York City contract tracing officials, who reported that they had not found evidence of widespread transmission from the convention.
Before the omicron-related scrutiny, the 840,000-square foot Javits Center had enjoyed overwhelmingly positive pandemic publicity. First outfitted as a 2,500-bed emergency hospital, Javits went on to serve as the flagship NY State vaccination center, distributing 14,500 shots a day at the height of its operation.
After closing in July, Javits slowly returned to its once-forgotten purpose, hosting events and conventions at a steady clip with new preventative implementations like contactless coat check, in addition to advanced HEPA filters and mask/vaccine requirements. Despite a series of post-omicron cancellations, Javits managed to successfully host the NY Boat Show and the National Retail Federation’s Big Show, which drew 15,000 attendees. The convention center has an equally busy spring, hosting events like the New York Build Expo and the NY Auto Show with rigorous safety precautions in place — “The Javits Center is open for business, and we are working closely with our clients, government partners and industry stakeholders to ensure operations are as safe, efficient and effective as possible. We are following all safety protocols related to the Key to NYC program, including proof of COVID-19 vaccination (two doses) for admission to all events. Regardless of vaccination status, face coverings must be worn to enter the Javits Center and in all areas.”