Did CES 2020 Drive Coronavirus Outbreak in the US and Beyond?

A CES attendee who had flu-like symptoms in January was reportedly tested positive for novel coronavirus antibodies.

Did CES 2020 Drive Coronavirus Outbreak in the US and Beyond?

CES 2020 was held weeks before the coronavirus outbreak was termed a global pandemic

  • CES 2020 took place January 7-10 this year
  • Several attendees reported flu-like symptoms after attending the event
  • No clear evidence of CES being a super spreader event has surfaced so far

While researchers and scientists are busy in finding a cure of COVID-19 that has affected millions of lives worldwide, a new report has emerged online that suggests CES 2020 may have played a role in spreading the novel coronavirus. The 53rd edition of the annual trade show, which is the world's biggest tech show, took place between January 7 and January 10 this year in Las Vegas.

Michael Webber, a professor at the University of Texas in Austin, was amongst the attendees who fell ill soon after attending CES 2020. Although the professor wasn't originally aware of the disease and is fully recovered from the severe flu he had in January, he earlier this week got his test results that revealed the presence of antibodies for the novel coronavirus, reports APM Reports.

The presence of these antibodies suggests that Webber was infected with the novel coronavirus in the past. Once the human body has successfully a fought an infection, the antibodies created by immune system linger on in the bloodstream to deal with future infections.

Inaccuracy in testing methods exists
It is important to note here that false positives is something COVID-19 testing, including antibody tests, has had to deal with, and accuracy of various testing methods varies. Therefore, it is possible that the antibodies found by Webber's blood may not have anything to do with the coronavirus. Also, the test taken by Webber was approved by the Chinese equivalent of the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA), but not by US FDA itself. Even if the test is accurate there is no way to know whether Webber got COVID-19 at CES 2020 itself.

Having said that, Webber wasn't the only person feeling sick after CES 2020. Several other people also tweeted about similar flu infections after attending the same event.


Webber also mentioned in a tweet that he posted after reaching the Las Vegas airport from CES that he saw some signs of an “infirmary” at the lounge. However, he initially speculated that “hard partying” or poor ventilation could be the reason.


Lack of awareness played a role, indeed
CES took place in early January. This was the time when the novel coronavirus was nothing more than just a part of the stories coming out of China. It surfaced as a respiratory virus in the city of Wuhan in China. While the first case of the disease caused by the new virus was recorded in Wuhan on December 8, some reports suggest it might have been in circulation in November.

There wasn't much awareness about the disease internationally until late January - US government established the White House Coronavirus Task Force on January 29.

Due to the lack of awareness, there weren't any travel restrictions and more than 100 people from Wuhan attended CES. Several handshakes and hugs also took place at the event - just as usual. Similarly, various interactions and meetings were seen in close quarters at the venue.

In a statement to Digital Trends, the Consumer Technology Association, the industry body behind CES, said that there was no evidence to highlight the spread of COVID-19 from the convention.

“The health, safety and security of CES attendees are a top priority, and we take precautions every year to protect our participants. We are not aware of any confirmed cases of COVID-19 connected to CES 2020. And we have not heard from any health officials, government authorities, or corporate entities reporting that one of our attendees was exposed to the virus,” the statement said.

Flu-like symptoms common among CES attendees for some time
It is also important to note that this wasn't the first CES that resulted in brought flu-like symptoms to the attendees. Some past tweets suggest that it is something common and usual. The reasons could be the cold January weather of Las Vegas, jetlag, and little sleep for many people that often cause them to fall ill after attending a big event like CES.

Additionally, authorities and many tech companies appear to have noticed not anything odd from this year's CES. This is why people were also set to move ahead with MWC in February — just weeks after the closure of CES. The mobile phone-focussed event, however, eventually got cancelled due to the expansion of the outbreak.

How are we staying sane during this Coronavirus lockdown? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.


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