Confusion, miscommunication reigned after Biogen super spreader conference, emails show

BOSTON — 25 Investigates is getting a clearer picture of the behind-the-scenes communications when the first cases of COVID-19 surfaced in Massachusetts following a February 2020 Biogen conference. The conference was held at the Long Wharf Marriott in Boston in late February as the COVID pandemic was unfolding globally.

Following the multi-day meeting, once it became clear the event had become a global super spreader, 25 Investigates placed an open records request for emails related to the conference in March. The state Department of Public Health [DPH] fulfilled that request this week, releasing more than 300 pages of internal communications.

The emails show a lot of back and forth between Biogen and DPH.

On March 8, Biogen’s chief medical officer contacted DPH officials saying there was confusion over what potentially exposed employees should do.

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In it, Maha Radhakrishnan writes: “Wanted to send this note your way to alert you to what people are hearing from DPH that Biogen is making the call on who needs to be screened/tested. This message from MDPH is being very wrongly perceived.”

It was sent after hundreds of Biogen employees complained about the lack of clear direction and answers from the company and even health care providers on how and where they could get tested.

The email went on to say: “We now have multiple instances of symptomatic people being turned away from testing by the HCP, unable to get testing …”

All this confusion was happening as the state was trying to figure out how to convey ongoing information about the Biogen cases to the public.

Dozens of emails were exchanged about what information should be shared with the public. On March 7, DPH Secretary Mary Lou Sudders emailed her team explaining the pressure that was coming from the governor’s office.

“The governor’s office is getting bombarded with calls – put together a press release and get it to me ASAP on the confirmed cases – and out [sic] something on it that says starting Monday the website will include this information.”

>>>MORE: New study finds Biogen conference led to spread of COVID-19 around the globe

The Biogen conference in Boston has been linked to as many as 330,000 cases of coronavirus worldwide, according to researchers.

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