Ethereum Community Grapples With Coronavirus as EthCC Cases Tick Upward

A number of attendees who contracted COVID-19 at an Ethereum conference in Paris have gone public with their diagnoses in what some are calling an act of "radical transparency."

AccessTimeIconMar 16, 2020 at 7:52 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 8:19 a.m. UTC
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Over a dozen Ethereum fans who participated in the EthCC conference in Paris during the first week of March have since tested positive for coronavirus, according to public lists compiled by attendees.

At least six hospitalized attendees have used these lists to alert the community so far. The lists, including real names and symptoms, have not been confirmed in full by CoinDesk. "This instinctive and dutiful radical transparency may change behaviours and save lives,” list creator Justin Drake tweeted.

One anonymous EthCC attendee in her 20s who tested positive for COVID-19, but may have contracted the virus from her partner at home who also tested positive, said there weren’t many precautionary measures at the event in Paris. The event was planned by the nonprofit Ethereum France and staffed by volunteers from ConsenSys and other crypto companies. 

“There were a few people with masks and hand sanitizer, but not many,” she said. “Most of the EthCC attendees were young and still thinking the virus wouldn’t affect them.”

She added she was hospitalized for two days after returning to the U.S., and is still quite ill. She is not listed on the documents currently being circulated, suggesting the infection count from the event are likely higher.

“The one thing they don't tell you about is it basically makes it so you’re not able to breathe … it basically feels like you are drowning,” she said of the respiratory disease. “I’m really surprised that EthCC wasn’t canceled and the whole thing held virtually. … I think it should have been completely virtual.”

ConsenSys Labs investor Min Teo tweeted that anyone who attended the conference, regardless of symptoms, should self-quarantine. Along those lines, another anonymous EthCC attendee said he wished the Ethereum Foundation would take a more active approach in warning event organizers.

This raises questions about leadership and responsibility across the ecosystem, an anonymous EthCC attendee told CoinDesk.

“I believe there was a responsibility from the EF to warn people early not to gather at upcoming conferences, especially since people were also sick at ETHDenver,” he said. “I get that the EF doesn't control EthCC or EthGlobal, but perhaps a warning from the leadership early on?”

The crowdsourced lists may be a step in the right direction for stopping further spread of the disease. However, Claire Brindis, co-director of USCF’s National Adolescent and Young Adult Health Information Center, said such lists could actually put people at even greater risk down the line. 

“In particular, when we see the type of xenophobia we have these days, people on such lists could be endangered,” Brindis said. “I anticipate there could be unexpected, negative ramifications. I would want to be notified if I have been exposed, but not in a public venue like this. I’m worried about how people might use this information against others.”

Ecosystem ripples

For some ethereum fans, this outbreak raises questions about community leadership.

“The Bitcoin community doesn't suffer from this issue of having a leader figure that can impact Bitcoin's ecosystem,” the anonymous male attendee said. “I hope this will change the way these things [Ethereum events] are run. It seems like the [Ethereum] leadership needs to be more aware of global issues happening.” 

As for ConsenSys, spearheaded by Ethereum co-founder Joe Lubin, the company issued a public statement saying it is “well-positioned to weather this disruption and maintain business continuity” because of its remote-first company policy. Obviously, company travel and meetups are now going fully virtual, including the firm’s banner Ethereal event in New York in May.

Although Lubin and other ConsenSys executives are noticeably absent from public infection lists, some list participants remain anonymous. Both Lubin and Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin were at EthCC in Paris, according to attendees.

Buterin tweeted on Saturday that he’s in good health and will update the community if he develops any symptoms.


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