At least 180 coronavirus infections in three states have been traced to an Illinois church camp for teenagers and an affiliated men’s conference that did not require attendees to be vaccinated or tested for the virus, according to an investigation published on Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There have been no deaths linked to the outbreak, but five of those infected required hospitalization, according to the C.D.C., which noted that all of those hospitalized were unvaccinated. Roughly 1,000 people in four states were ultimately exposed to the virus by people who attended the two events, which took place in mid-June.
The report, which expands on an earlier investigation by the Illinois Department of Public Health, highlights the perils of ignoring established safety guidelines for summer camps, business meetings and religious gatherings during a pandemic that continues to pummel the United States.
And with the Delta variant causing significant spikes in infections across many states, some public health officials have expressed concerns about large Labor Day gatherings that do not include masks, or gate-keeping measures for admission, like testing or proof of vaccination.
In the report, more than 120 of those infected were camp and conference attendees, and most of the others were members of their immediate households, researchers said. Twenty-nine of the 180 people infected were fully vaccinated against Covid-19, which is also known among epidemiologists as SARS-CoV-2.
“This investigation underscores the impact of secondary SARS-CoV-2 transmission during large events such as camps and conferences when Covid-19 prevention strategies, including vaccination, masking, physical distancing, and screening testing, are not implemented,” the C.D.C.’s report said.
Although coronavirus infections have affected youth camps across the country, those that have embraced testing and masks for attendees — and contact tracing and isolation for the infected — have fared much better than those that have taken a more laissez-faire approach, according to a number of studies.
Sarah Patrick, the acting epidemiologist for the state of Illinois, said the outbreak illustrated the role that children can play in transmission of the virus — and the importance of ensuring they are included in efforts to curb its spread.
“We’ve learned that kids, who some had thought might not be able to easily spread disease between each other, can actually be the fire starter that increases transmission beyond their immediate contacts and into the community,” she said.
The Crossing, a nondenominational Christian group that organized the five-day youth camp and a two-day men’s conference, did not ask participants to be vaccinated or tested, nor did it not require mask wearing during the gatherings.
The “What to Bring” page of camp’s website includes water shoes, sleeping bags and the Bible, but makes no mention of masks. Campers were between 14 and 18 years old, making them eligible for the vaccines.
The phone number listed on the website for Crossing Camp was disconnected on Tuesday. Email and voice mail messages left by a reporter seeking comment at the church’s main office in Quincy, Ill., were not immediately returned.