13 Investigates


13 Investigates: How CES might have been an original COVID-19 super-spreader

Posted at 10:16 PM, Jan 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-06 01:16:25-05

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — COVID and CES have a complicated relationship.

Just like technology makes its debut there, some will tell you COVID-19 made its first big splash here in early 2020 before a lot of people knew what a coronavirus was.

13 Investigates turns back the COVID timeline and shows how this convention might have been an original super-spreader.

CES kicked off today with thousands in attendance, but not nearly the 175,000 who attended the convention two years ago, just before the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in the United States.

In April that year, 13 Investigates spoke to attendees from all over the country who believe they probably got the virus at CES 2020. That raised concerns that the virus was spread when they returned home to communities like Silicon Valley, New York City and beyond.

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Michael Webber of Austin, Texas was one of those attendees. He tweeted about symptoms he experienced immediately after the convention and the possibility that it was COVID-19. Michael's test for coronavirus antibodies came back positive in April 2020.

Many more CES attendees shared similar experiences.

“I would say on Thursday of CES, both my business partner and I just started feeling really run down,” says Lizzie Braicks, who's from Seattle. “And then we got on the airplane and we both felt really sick. And then it just got progressively worse over the weekend.”

The same was true for Braick's colleague Jessica Fleming.

“I started to get really itchy eyes and I got pinkeye, which is actually one of the weird symptoms or a little bit more rare symptoms of COVID,” Fleming said. “And so I was, you know, really it was just feeling terrible. We get on this flight to go home back to Seattle, and then as soon as we got back, it was just totally sick, the most sick I've ever been. Ever.”

Attendees say the flu is common year after year at CES, so much so that they call it "con-crud" or "CES flu."

But they said in 2020 it was different and much, much worse.

"I've gone through a lot of conventions and I've never gotten sick like that," Braick said. "I've lost my voice before, but this is like a whole different thing."

Tina Anthony, a CES spokesperson, said she wasn't aware of any COVID-related backlash after the 2020 convention.

"Not that I know of," Anthony said. "CES 2020 was a great event. We had amazing keynoters. We had a great experience, and I'm really excited we were able to convene then."

CES also provided the following statement on Wednesday:

CES 2020 took place Jan. 7-10, 2020. Per CDC, “Four separate lines of evidence (syndromic surveillance, virus surveillance, phylogenetic analysis, and retrospectively identified cases) suggest that limited U.S. community transmission likely began in late January or early February 2020.” [cdc.gov] There is no confirmed case of COVID-19 from CES 2020, and an antibody test doesn’t indicate where or when someone was infected.

But in May of 2020, the Nevada Health Response team confirmed what the sickened attendees suspected: that they got sick here in Las Vegas in December 2019 and January 2020, and the illness was COVID-19.

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