The next time somebody tells you they don’t need to wear a mask or stay the hell at home, tell them about case-patient A0.
Case-patient A0 is a woman who returned to her home in Heilongjiang province in China, after a trip to the United States on March 19. She possessed no symptoms of the disease and tested negative for the virus, but still did the sensible thing and self-quarantined in her living space in her building. She took the lift alone.
This is where tracing the path of the contagion gets tricky, though. Her downstairs neighbor took the same lift. That neighbor’s mother and her boyfriend attended a party. Someone from that party suffered a stroke and had to go to a hospital. The stroke victim’s three sons took him to a hospital. Then those three sons transferred their father to a second hospital.
We know that COVID-19 is a disease that clings to its carrier obstinately and travels far, but what contact tracers discovered may shock even the most well-informed. Let’s go backward now: in the second hospital, the stroke victim and his three sons ended up testing positive for COVID-19 and infecting 20 people. In the first hospital, they infected 28 people, including medical workers. The father and his sons contracted the disease at the party, from the downstairs neighbor’s mother and her boyfriend, who it turns out contracted it from the downstairs neighbor.
This led researchers to infer that that neighbor contracted it from the same lift that case-patient A0 took after returning from the US. They tested case-patient A0 and found that she was positive for antibodies, which suggests that she previously had the disease.
The report, which was published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, does not explicitly state if case-patient A0 wore a mask the whole time or if she carried around a bottle of rubbing alcohol, like most of us do. We also don’t know how many people attended the party that the downstairs neighbor’s mother and boyfriend went to (probably enough to rack the total outbreak count to 71). We do know however that Heilongjiang province was not on lockdown and that small gatherings were allowed.
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What is especially nerve-wracking about this story is that case-patient A0 acted sensibly and with caution, and yet despite the measures she took, ended up infecting people she didn’t even directly interact with. Let’s not waste time identifying who the “bad guy” is in this story either—we can get mad at the people who attended the party, but nobody in the long chain of contagion could have guessed that COVID-19 managed to infiltrate their circles.
This is a pandemic that makes potential Mary Mallons of us all, (Mary Mallon, by the way, more popularly known as Typhoid Mary, was also an asymptomatic carrier) and makes hypochondriac paranoia seem sensible. Perhaps what we can take away from the CDC’s report is to continue being fastidious about the safety measures we’re all taking in response to this pandemic. Wash your hands, wear a mask, constantly disinfect, minimize contact, don’t go to parties. Seriously, don’t go to parties. Stick to your Zoom e-numan.