Single camper linked to 116 coronavirus cases at Wisconsin summer camp, CDC says

Mike Stunson
·3 min read

A high school student who tested positive for COVID-19 likely spread it to 116 others at a Wisconsin summer camp, health officials said Thursday.

All campers at the overnight summer school retreat scheduled for July 2 to Aug. 11 were tested for the coronavirus before their arrival, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But a ninth-grade boy began experiencing COVID-19 symptoms July 3 and tested positive two days later.

The faith-based camp, which was not identified but reportedly took place in the southeastern part of the state, was attended by 152 high school-aged boys, counselors and staff members from 21 states and territories, as well as two foreign countries, according to the CDC report.

Campers were not required to social distance or wear masks upon arrival and classes were held outside with tables less than 6 feet apart, according to the report, which noted teachers did wear masks during instruction. Beds were tightly spaced at the site’s dorms and yurts, CDC officials said.

The infected boy learned after his arrival that one of his family members tested positive for the coronavirus, the CDC said. The boy was isolated in a private room at the camp and 11 of his close contacts were initially quarantined together.

Rapid antigen tests were given to the 11 boys and they tested negative, but those results could not be verified by health officials, the report said. They were released from quarantine.

Of the 11 boys who were quarantined, six began experiencing mild COVID-19 symptoms during July 4-7 — as did 18 other students, according to the CDC.

“These students were given masks, but contact tracing was not done and the students were not isolated,” the CDC said.

The virus eventually spread throughout the camp and there was at least one confirmed case in each dorm and yurt, the report said. An outbreak investigation began July 15 and camp organizers were instructed in mitigation measures, the report said, “but the capacity for such measures was exceeded by the large volume of symptomatic attendees.”

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services tested the attendees on July 28, and 116 of them had confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases, the CDC said. No one was hospitalized and all of the illnesses were considered mild to moderate, according to the CDC.

“The attack rate was extraordinary both in terms of the number infected, as well as the pace at which they were infected,” Dr. Stuart Ray, a professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, told NBC News. “It illustrates how hard it has been to control.”

The outbreak wasn’t surprising to Wisconsin Deputy Health Services Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“If there was one person who was ill with COVID-19, they easily spread that to everyone in their housing unit and then the nature of summer camp where you eat meals together, go swimming together, do activities together, sing around the campfire together — all of those activities are great spreading events,” she said.