Was Obama's birthday party a superspreader event?

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Seeing as how everyone there was supposedly vaccinated and the party was held outdoors (kinda sorta), it’d be a bad sign if it was. And surprising too, since the recent Lollapalooza festival in Obama’s hometown of Chicago drew 385,000 people and only 203 tested positive within two weeks of the event.

There’s no question that cases have been rising on Martha’s Vineyard over the past week, though. The question is whether it’s a matter of causation, not just correlation.

Answer: Maybe?

A total of 74 people on Martha’s Vineyard have tested positive for Covid- 19 since former President Barack Obama’s 60th birthday extravaganza last Saturday, more than any week since April

He gathered with friends Thursday at the Barn Bowl & Bistro, joined a larger kick-off celebration Friday at the luxury Winnetu Oceanside Resort.

Obama followed up his party with a brunch Sunday at Beach Road restaurant, dining under a specially-erected marquee beside the water in Vineyard Haven…

Many of the guests flew in by private jet and stayed in Edgartown, the center of the island’s COVID resurgence.

There are two complicating factors in trying to prove causation. One is that it’s vacation/tourist season on Martha’s Vineyard right now, which means there are lots of people around potentially spreading the ‘rona who have nothing to do with Obama. The other is timing. Check the data in Dukes County, Massachusetts, and you’ll find that cases had begun to rise before the party took place:

“In the week leading up to his party, 48 new cases were reported on the island through Saturday, double the prior week,” says the Daily Mail. That suggests a local outbreak was under way before the event was held, with cases continuing to rise day by day in the week following. Obama’s bash may have accelerated community spread that was already in motion, in other words, but it didn’t instigate it.

“At this time we’re not aware of any cases connected to the Obama party,” one local health official told the paper. Another told the Boston Herald that it’s too soon to know if there was transmission at the event because COVID symptoms don’t appear instantly after infection. They can appear as soon as two days afterward, per the CDC, or as many as 14 days later, although it’s safe to assume that people are becoming symptomatic more quickly in the Delta era due to the higher viral load produced by the variant.

If we guesstimate an average of three or four days between infection and the onset of symptoms, with another day or two between symptoms and the patient finally deciding to get tested, the earliest we would expect Obama-linked cases to start showing up in the data was the middle of this past week. Cases *did* rise in Martha’s Vineyard since then, per the Mail — 13 Wednesday, 18 Thursday, 20 Friday — but we’ll need to wait for contact tracing to know if any are connected to his party. More from the Herald:

[Health board assistant Janet Hathaway] said Friday if there is a cluster linked to last weekend’s 60th birthday bash on the Obamas’ nearly 30-acre Edgartown spread off Great Pond, it will probably be with the serving staff. And some of those workers usually cover multiple parties on the island — especially with the summer season in full steam.

“We’ve seen an uptick of the virus since the first week in August,” Hathaway added. “There’s also been a huge run on over-the-counter (COVID) tests.”…

“This is the busiest time on the island,” Lefebvre added. “It’s impossible for us to know at this point” if the infections are linked to the Obama bash.

It may be hard to pinpoint where a server picked up the virus if they worked multiple events recently. One thing that would give us a better sense of the party as a superspreader would be if a number of celebrity guests from across the country who attended all just so happened to be diagnosed with COVID in the past few days. But I’m sure the word has already gone out among them that if they happen to experience symptoms they should keep it very quiet.

They wouldn’t want to bring political heat on you-know-who for refusing to cancel his party in the middle of a local outbreak, after all.

While we’re on the subject of Democrats spreading COVID, it’s true that America’s current COVID misery is concentrated in the southeastern Republican part of the country but it’s not true that only red states are suffering right now. Hawaii is in the thick of a nasty wave:

So is Oregon:

The northwest may be Delta’s next stop after it’s done with the South. One point about Oregon, though: If you click on the last link and scroll down to the “hot spots” map, you’ll see that counties with lower vaccination rates tend to be seeing higher case rates right now. Not a surprise, of course, but still noteworthy.