The chairman of XPrize – who also founded a vaccine firm – hosted a 100-strong ‘superspreader’ conference with global business executives in breach of a stay-home order in place at the time – before failing to report a string of positive cases.
Peter Diamandis held the indoor, mostly maskless gathering in Calver City, California with business leaders from as far away as Israel, Hawaii and Vancouver on January 24 – when local IC units were running at full capacity.
The 59-year-old, a co-founder and board member of the COVID vaccine developer Covaxx, admitted to MIT Technology Review that at around 21 to 24 people tested positive for the virus after the event, including himself.
Diamandis, founder of the XPrize Foundation, hosts the annual Abundance 360 Summit or ‘A360’ for wealthy ‘patrons’ paying $30,000 subscriptions to hear him discuss a series of his favorite topics, including AI, longevity, exponential growth, synthetic biology and the ‘abundance mindset’.
Peter Diamandis held the indoor, mostly maskless gathering in Calver City, California with business leaders from as far away as Israel, Hawaii and Vancouver
Guests were ferried by shuttle bus from the luxury Hotel Casa del Mar in Santa Monica, which charges around $550 for a standard room, to the office of the XPrize Foundation in Culver City.
Speakers at the event – some of whom appeared over video link – included Starlink SpaceX vice-president Jonathan Hofeller and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.
The first employee tested positive for COVID by a PCR test on January 28, leading to the A360 team sending out an email urging guests to ‘re-test’.
Seven days later, at least five staff members, two speakers, and one family member who did not attend the conference tested positive, while a further three people began displaying symptoms, according to internal communications.
Diamandis co-founded COVID vaccine developer Covaxx
On February 12, Diamandis wrote in a blog entitled ‘a false sense of security’ that 12 guests had tested positive.
‘I thought creating a COVID ”Immunity Bubble” for a small group in a TV studio setting was possible. I was wrong.
‘Despite a total of 452 (PCR & Rapid Antigen) tests and four physicians on-staff during a highly contained small gathering, 24 people in our ”Immunity Bubble” (~ 25%) tested positive for the coronavirus – including me.
‘I’m humbled and pained by what I learned.’
He confirmed 30 guests had attended in-person, 12 of whom caught COVID, as well as four speakers and five out of the 10 support staff, although none of the 35-strong production team fell ill. They were all wearing masks.
The exclusive event took place at the office of the XPrize Foundation in Culver City, California
Asked by MIT Technology Review for the estimated total number of positive cases to include family members, he said this was likely upwards of 32.
Diamandis, who has an MD from Harvard Medical School and degrees from MIT, was initially skeptical when COVID first hit the US in mid-March.
He tweeted: ‘We are witnessing the viral spread of fear that is definitively damaging both national economies and global markets’ and, later, ‘The level of panic is doing as much damage.’
He went to found vaccine development company Covaxx later that year, and a jab produced by the firm has already gone through early trials.
Guests were ferried by shuttle bus from the luxury Hotel Casa del Mar in Santa Monica, which charges around $550 for a standard room
Asked why he had decided to hold the event in person, Diamandis said: ‘A360 is an event I’ve committed to run for 25 years. That’s sort of an important hallmark of an event.
‘We’re in year nine, and it has always been an in-person event.’ He added that one day, ‘eventually A360 will be fully virtualized.’
But he added: ‘Listen, I screwed up here.’
Asked why no one had reported the cluster of cases to county public health authorities, as required by several California state laws, he said that he and his staff had been in bed ‘for days’ so had not been able to ‘take a full accounting of where we are’.
California lifted regional coronavirus stay-at-home orders across the state last month, in a move that could allow restaurants and businesses in many counties to reopen outdoor dining and other services.