A technology executive in California apologized for hosting a conference in Culver City. After that, two dozen participants and employees of the event tested positive for the coronavirus.
The managing director, Peter H. Diamandis, was one of those who had contracted the coronavirus. In late January, he hosted the conference – an annual summit for a paid membership group called Abundance 360 - with around 80 attendees, panelists, and support staff.
The gathering disregarded instructions from Los Angeles County public health officials who repeatedly urged people to avoid excessive travel or public mixing. At the time of the conference, southern California was experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases and many hospitals were still overwhelmed.
Mr Diamandis, the founder of the X Prize Foundation, a non-profit group that awards cash prizes for technological innovation, said in a blog post on Friday that he was “deeply sorry”. He added that the safety protocols for the event – including repeated Covid-19 tests for attendees, none of whom showed positive results at the time – had created a false sense of security, leading people to become less vigilant about masks and distancing were.
“I was wrong,” Diamandis said, adding that masks, physical distancing and vaccines are the best ways to fight the virus. “I hope others can learn from my mistakes.”
According to Diamandis, hundreds of people attended the conference virtually, and some asked if they could attend physically. The X-Prize office in Culver City, bordering Los Angeles, has been converted into a studio, and Mr Diamandis’ Instagram posts reveal he shares a brightly lit stage with panelists, some on video calls and others in person.
Mr Diamandis said those who attended the event had been asked to share negative test results for the coronavirus before arriving and that workers and attendees were repeatedly tested at the event, giving more than 450 negative results.
“I trusted that an immunity bubble was a ‘real thing’,” said Diamandis.
But two days after the studio production ended, an employee tested positive. He sent emails informing attendees, asking them to isolate and retest.
On Friday he wrote that at least 24 people were infected. MIT Technology Review, which reported on the meeting last week, found that at least 32 people associated with the conference may have been infected.
General membership to Abundance 360 costs $ 12,500 annually, according to the organization’s online materials. According to MIT Technology Review, attendees at the January event each paid more than $ 30,000. When the conference began on January 23, California had a strict home-stay order. it was picked up two days later.
Apr. 16, 2021, 5:26 p.m. ET
On Tuesday, state and county health officials did not immediately respond to questions about whether Mr Diamandis could be fined or otherwise disciplined.
Representatives for Mr Diamandis, who has a degree in medicine from Harvard Medical School and whose entrepreneurial ventures include a coronavirus vaccine development company and a competition to improve Covid-19 testing technology, did not immediately respond to inquiries after Tuesday Comments.
Many people see a negative coronavirus test as a permit to socialize without precaution, but doctors and scientists say it is dangerously wrong.
Some types of tests, especially those that give quick results, do not reliably detect low levels of the virus and can falsely label infected people as “negative”. And even the best tests cannot see into the future: people can become infected with the coronavirus after a negative test result.
According to Diamandis, participants took part in PCR tests, which are molecular tests performed using a technique called a polymerase chain reaction. These tests are considered to be relatively reliable, but they are not perfect. (Antigen tests, which are designed to detect pieces of coronavirus protein rather than their genetic material, tend to give faster results than molecular tests, but they are more difficult to identify coronavirus cases.)
According to Diamandis, the PCR tests created a false sense of security. “We didn’t make it compulsory to wear masks 100 percent of the time in the studio,” he said. “This is definitely one of my biggest mistakes and one of the most important lessons I’ve learned.”
These lessons – particularly about relying too much on test results – hit Mr. Diamandis after he became ill himself.
“When it became clear that I had personally got Covid-19 (which sucks as everyone says), I tested myself twice a day with fast PCR and fast antigen for several consecutive days,” he wrote his blog post. “I was amazed that NONE of the tests were positive.”
Four days after his quarantine, a PCR spit test finally discovered the virus, Diamandis said.
He also noted that a group of people at the Culver City event – the 35 audiovisual experts who ran the live broadcast – wore masks throughout the production process and did not report positive test results.
“There were no COVID cases in this group,” wrote Diamandis. “Conclusion again: masks work.”