SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE – Most if not all of the guests wore masks when the Nov. 27 wedding ceremony started at a Wisconsin celebration that is now the suspected origin of an outbreak of COVID-19 and the omicron variant among Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center staff, according to an attendee.
But as the celebration wore on, the cocktails came out and people took to the dance floor, many leaving their masks behind, said Debra Furr-Holden, an epidemiologist and associate dean of public health at Michigan State University, who was in attendance and believes she contracted the coronavirus there.
Furr-Holden said the revelation that even this group of “risk-averse” and “super responsible people” could have let their guard down enough to become unwitting vectors of COVID-19 shows just how vulnerable even vaccinated people remain to the virus when indoors and in groups.
“We need to shift the narrative and stop calling this a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Furr-Holden said. “It doesn’t honor the fact that we’re seeing more and more breakthrough cases in the vaccinated.”
More than a dozen wedding attendees went home infected with COVID-19, including 11 people who work for Kaiser Permanente in the East Bay. Some went to work before finding out they were infected, causing potential exposure of the virus to a total of 38 other employees and patients at two Oakland hospitals, health officials said.
Six of 12 known cases among East Bay residents who attended the Wisconsin wedding are due to the omicron variant, according to the Alameda County Public Health Department.
Wisconsin public health officials on Dec. 3 announced they were investigating the outbreak but had not yet found any local positive cases among wedding guests. Officials had no updated information about their investigation this week. They said one wedding guest had recently returned from an international trip.
Masks are not required to be worn in public places indoors in Milwaukee, though the city’s public health department encourages it.
Kaiser Permanente said 11 of its employees at Oakland Medical Center were infected, and they were all fully vaccinated and had received booster shots.
The staffers potentially exposed eight patients plus another eight employees, leading to quarantines and shuffling staff assignments to cover shifts. As of Dec. 8, 13 of those exposed had tested negative.