Multiple State of the Word Attendees Test Positive for COVID-19

State of the Word 2021 in NYC

Matt Mullenweg’s 2021 State of the Word address was held in New York City nine days ago with a live studio audience. On Sunday, December 19, all in-person attendees were notified by email that they were possibly exposed to COVID-19 after one of the attendees tested positive.

Although proof of vaccination was required at the door, multiple people have reported recent infections after traveling home from the event. Aaron Jorbin tweeted about his case today, and four more have been reported in a private channel on Post Status Slack.

There’s no way to know for certain whether the attendees who contracted COVID-19 caught the virus at the State of the Word, as many of them traveled from far away places and had meetups with other attendees outside of the main event.

Concerns about the lack of masks and no requirement for rapid tests began popping up prior to the event. From the perspective of viewing the livestream, masks were scant and attendees were quite close together in a small space.

The day before the event, the WHO warned that evidence suggested the new Omicron variant could escape prior immunity and would lead to surges with a high transmission rate. Studies were already showing reduced effectiveness of existing vaccines against the variant. On December 13, New York governor Kathy Hochul announced a new temporary indoor mask mandate for public spaces, which could be bypassed by requiring vaccines for entrance.

When asked how the State of the Word’s coordinators decided on the precautions, WordPress Executive Director Josepha Haden Chomphosy said the event met the local guidelines while allowing attendees to make their own choices for anything beyond the requirements.

“We followed the guidelines as laid out by the city,” Haden Chomphosy said. “Masks and hand sanitizer were liberally available throughout the venue, and we encouraged attendees to make informed decisions about their health.”

It has been well-documented that indoor masking can significantly reduce transmission, so it was curious that the event did not require them at this pivotal time when governments are taking more stringent measures to stop the spread of the virus.

Fortunately all those who were recently infected have reported mild illnesses, but the incident raises an important question for onlookers: Is this an indicator of how in-person WordCamps are going to go in 2022? There are already several on the schedule.

Whether or not attendees’ infections originated at the State of the Word or in outside gatherings is going to be impossible to pinpoint, but the nominal safety protocols sends a message to all those considering attending in-person events in 2022.

Since receiving the notification of possible exposure, many State of the Word attendees have been monitoring their health with tests. One attendee reported in Post Status Slack that she has had difficulty getting tested and is still waiting for one in the mail. In the meantime, she has opted out of a family gathering for Christmas as a safeguard.

“As someone who wants nothing more than to be able to attend WordCamp Europe or WordCamp US in person next year this doesn’t give me much confidence,” Gravity Forms CEO and co-founder Carl Hancock said. “With such a small event the COVID protocols could and should have been super tight to test things out for larger events. The lack of masks and social distancing at an indoor event without added protocols such as rapid testing for entry was disappointing to see.”

WordCamp organizers will need to consider how they can protect attendees beyond simply meeting the basic, local requirements, which may not fully acknowledge the nature of the current threat. They will also need to be responsive to the rapidly changing pandemic landscape and be ready to implement more safety protocols at the last minute, if necessary. If the State of the Word is any indication, future WordCamp organizers will need to have a plan for sending exposure notifications to attendees, in case the events become the source of an outbreak.


18 responses to “Multiple State of the Word Attendees Test Positive for COVID-19”

  1. Thank you for reporting on this very important issue. Many folks in the demographics who attended this Word Press Camp were at higher risk for more serious disease. They were probably from areas with little COVID and didn’t understand how much more COVID NYC has. If they weren’t wearing masks here, they probably weren’t when eating and drinking in crowded NYC establishments, an obvious way to get infected. Some of us are living with cancer and other conditions causing us to be immuno-compromised. Maybe in the future we could have a separate section for those wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Also, maybe we could add $10 to the price each day, buy large amounts of quality rapid tests, and test in a socially distanced space outside the venue (even if it just a hallway with chairs 6’ apart). Lastly, for folks that test positive maybe there could be a room where folks must be masked and socially distanced where they could watch a livestream (and sign a form promising not to hold WordCamp responsible for anything. Thank you Hosts for all your hard work. ❤️

  2. This is very much a news story. Thank you for sharing it.

    Most of us will likely get Covid eventually, and it’s something I find imperative to try to avoid because my wife is heavily immuno-compromised. She is vaccinated as I am, but she would have a high risk of death if I were to bring the virus home to her. There are MANY people out there in similar circumstances (they are dying every day), and there’s no litmus test to know who would be directly and permanently affected by the virus’s toll on their body. For this reason EVERYONE should be wearing a mask. No – masks aren’t 100% effective, but they are effective enough to significantly reduce the probability of transmission by everyone wearing one properly. Transmission is exponential, so the action of a single person, positive or negative, may easily affect many. Wear a mask. Require masks. It’s not difficult, and it does not cause economic hardship.

    • Matthew,

      I truly sympathise with your wife’s situation and you are 100% right that masks reduce transmission.

      However natural and/or vaccine immunity is effective for most people and covid may end up endemic. Therefore how long should we mandate masks and how long do you think that culturally people will continue to follow those rules?

    • Jen Mylo’s experience is horrible but it should be noted she caught covid in 2020 before vaccines were widely available.

      Vaccination does reduce the danger of bad outcomes through covid infection substantially.

      As I said the chances of avoiding covid if you wish to live a normal life are now low (and falling with new variants being more transmissible).Best to prepare yourself for when you do. Get healthy, get vaxxed.

      • The chances of avoiding COVID are no longer low if you are vaccinated. if you are out in the world you are almost assuredly going to get the Omicron variant even if you previously had COVID, but were never vaccinated and boosted.
        Also, risk does not drop dramatically for long COVID (although it does drop) if you are vaccinated. A reminder: 30% of people with COVID have long COVID.
        Also, remember that whenever you talk about making “choices” and “risk assessment” that is just straight up privilege. The people serving you, checking you in/out, cooking for you, cleaning for you, driving you likely have less choices then you do, and you are risking their health.
        Obviously, get vaxxed. But there is no “normal life” in a pandemic.

  3. Why would you go to this event, in high flu season, in a major city, and sit close together with strangers in a small room? Not even wearing a mask? And why would the arrangers allow it? Mind boggling.
    It looks like people believe the lies told by the administration and its ’experts’ that you can’t be a carrier if you’re vaxxed and you can’t get covid.

  4. Really sorry to hear this happened. Requiring Covid testing, either rapid testing at the door which is not very expensive and is quite easy (I’ve been to a few events here in Israel where rapid tests were available at the door), and/or PCR tests within 24-48 hours of an event, can help prevent the spread. In-person events are awesome, so rather than canceling them altogether, might as well use the tools available to us to help keep people safe, even if they’re a bit inconvenient. Getting Covid is more inconvenient, and even dangerous for many people.

  5. I’m really sad to hear about this. PCR tests within 24-48 hours after an event, may help prevent the spread. Instead of canceling in-person gatherings entirely, we should make use of the tools at our disposal to assist keep people safe, even if they are inconvenient. For many individuals, getting Covid is more inconvenient and even risky.

  6. I think that people are very confident about what a virus is, especially this one that has killed millions of people, people still think that the vaccine is 100% effective and that it repels the virus permanently but it is not like that, although it helps not to Having it again does not mean that you are completely protected. I find the news regrettable but at the same time irresponsibility infuriates me.

  7. Is there anyone out there knowing about Karry Mullis, the Nobel prize that invented the test that says you have or you have not a virus? Ever read about Ryke Hamer’s research, or current Stefan Lanka?

    Mixing WordPress news with geopolitical and health news, please don’t.

  8. WordCamp organizers will need to consider how they can protect attendees beyond simply meeting the basic, local requirements, which may not fully acknowledge the nature of the current threat.

    Simply do it online.

    What in the world were they thinking or not thinking to acutally meet random people in person in a global pandemic in a huge city and not even wear masks?

    How did they not know that also “fully vaxxed and boostered” still transmit and receive that virus? That any available test, rapid and PCR, also might not detect the virus depending on various factors? Were they living under a rock or something?

    Baffled, completely baffled.

      • Yes, one positive resolution to this enduring crisis would be endemicity, where almost everyone has effective antibodies and covid’s like a cold (altho no telling if/when we get there). Maybe catching it’s inevitable. But the TIMING of when you catch covid is critical and now is among the worst times. Hospitals are out of beds and many states no longer have the antibody shot that was keeping some victims out of hospitals.
        Don’t be fooled by talk of “mild symptoms.” People are still catching long covid and being crippled for life, needing lung transplants, all that stuff. Certainly you’re better off NOT catching it now.


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