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Are proms and graduations the next super-spreader events?

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

The end of the academic calendar represents a joyous time for students and their families. This season brings graduations, parties, and proms. Unfortunately for some, the time also brings anxiety, illnesses, and fear for the safety of vulnerable family members.

The first major prom outbreak has already occurred. Multiple news sources have reported that San Mateo High School outside San Francisco had over 100 people test positive for COVID-19 following the events. No hospitalizations were initially reported but multiple other family members and contacts may have been exposed.

Should we be stopping all events until the pandemic is over? Of course not. So what should we be doing?

A majority of the United States has been vaccinated but only 30% have received booster shots. Vaccination would not prevent infections with new Omicron variants so mandating vaccinations would have probably created friction and not prevented many infections. Masking at the event would have been impractical because so many pre and post-event parties with families and private gatherings would not have had the rule. Consequently, a prudent solution would have been to test attendees with a rapid test before and possibly several days after the event. In this way, positive cases would have been identified and able to be isolated.

Additionally, older family members or other vulnerable individuals should use this time to ensure they are up to date on shots. They also could consider seeing their graduate family members at the event but not immediately afterward for a week or two and only afterward the attendee has had surveillance testing. Selective N95 masking in crowded areas at this time should also be strongly considered.

Prom and graduation season is here. They are all potential super-spreader events due to a variety of reasons. While the risk of vaccinated and boostered healthy teenagers is low for hospitalization with COVID-19, their associations are at major risk during this time. Practical safety solutions with judicious testing and other precautions will make this a safe and happy time for all.

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