Emory researcher says superspreaders responsible for 20% of state’s COVID cases

Emory researcher says superspreaders responsible for 20% of state?s COVID cases

ATLANTA — You've probably heard it on TV or seen headlines with it on social media—the term superspreader.

It refers to how just one person with coronavirus can spread it to dozens, if not hundreds of people!

Channel 2′s Michael Seiden spoke with one of the scientists behind new research that shows Georgians under the age of 60 are the worst offenders when it comes to superspreaders.

Content Continues Below

This team behind the study featured Emory University professors. The study analyzed more than 9,500 COVID-19 cases from the hardest-hit counties in Georgia. What they found could play a significant role in stopping the spread.

"The main goal of the study is to quantify or characterize the spreading of the event in Georgia," said Max Lau, associate professor at Emory University.

Lau is part of a research team that's been studying the impact of superspreaders for COVID-19.

"The first question we have to ask is, how impactful is superspreading? And then the next important question to ask (is), does age play a role in spreading?" Lau told Seiden.

Using data from the Georgia Department of Public Health, Lau and his team analyzed more than 9,500 COVID-19 cases from March to May, in the five hardest-hit counties in the state, which included four metro counties—Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett—and one rural county, Dougherty.


"First, we found that superspreading is very impactful," Lau said.

Impactful because, according to his research, just 2% of people were responsible for 20% of COVID-19 transmissions.

“We also found that people younger than 60 may be two times more likely to affect another person,” Lau said. “And the younger group appeared to be the main driver of superspreading.”

The research also found that rural areas, like Dougherty County, are also responsible for superspreading because of a lack of social distancing.

In late February, Channel 2 Action News reported on a superspreading event in Albany where, after attending a funeral, at least two dozen people got infected with COVID-19 and one died.

"Superspreading becomes more important in terms of suspending the transmit as we see the decline in cases," Lau said.

Matt Isenberg is one of the lucky ones. The 38-year-old husband and father told Seiden about his nasty bout with the virus.

"It was hard to breathe because I was coughing so much. It was probably the worst cough I've had in my lifetime. I had crazy chills during the day, and then at night, when I would try to sleep, I had the worst sweats," Isenberg said.

Isenberg spent more than two weeks in his basement in quarantine away from his wife and their young son. He told Seiden that he plans to stay home this Fourth of July weekend.

"It's scary to me because whatever your beliefs are, this is real. There is no vaccine, and it is spreading and so you would just think, you know, people would want to be more responsible and, you know, try to stop the spread, and that doesn't seem to be happening right now," Isenberg said.

When asked if biology had anything to do with someone being more susceptible to becoming a superspreader, Lau said he believes circumstances and behavior are the biggest reasons.

Most of the people we reported have gotten sick from the virus have been young people hanging out in bars, restaurants and beaches, who aren’t practicing social distancing or wearing a mask.

Governor says people know what to do to keep COVID-19 cases down