The staff dedicated to investigating disease outbreaks for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received a reminder this week of the pandemic's persistence: confirmed covid cases at their own conference.

"We're letting you know that several people who attended the [Epidemic Intelligence Service] Conference have tested positive for COVID-19," a CDC branch chief wrote in an email to staff on Friday and obtained by The Washington Post, adding that at least one person at the division's recruiting event on Wednesday had tested positive.

Current and former CDC staff also told The Post that moderators at the conference warned staff several times that some attendees had tested positive for the virus.

A CDC official said the agency was "aware" of several confirmed cases that could be connected to the conference, but cautioned "the cases we're aware of at this time should not be referred to as an 'outbreak.'"

"These cases are reflective of general spread in the community. It's not news that public health employees can get COVID-19," CDC's Kristen Nordlund wrote in an email.

Nordlund said that conference leaders publicly announced the potential cases in the closing session of the conference, canceled an in-person training, emailed all officers with current CDC guidance and offered to extend the hotel stays of sick attendees who needed to isolate.

The CDC's conference of epidemic intelligence service officers - the disease detectives deployed to identify and fight outbreaks - was held at a hotel in Atlanta between Monday and Thursday; officials said it drew about 2,000 people. Among the presentations were more than a dozen sessions on the lessons from fighting covid, including "How Far We Have Come: A COVID-19 Surveillance System Evaluation," a session that discussed improvements on tracking the virus.

While the risks of covid have declined as Americans have gained protection through vaccines and prior infections, the virus remains on pace to be a top-10 cause of death this year. Experts warn the vast majority of covid cases are not being publicly reported, with many Americans testing at home, if at all, and often opting not to report the results. The Biden administration has said it will formally end the three-year-old public health emergency for the virus on May 11.

CDC leaders had expressed enthusiasm for this week's in-person gathering, after two prior conferences were canceled because of the pandemic and last year's was held virtually.

"We haven't had the conference in four years, so we're really excited to have our current officers and our alumni back," Eric Pevzner, head of the service, said in a video earlier this week. "This is the place where our disease detectives are showcasing their work."

In posts on social media, conference attendees were unmasked as they gathered in person. Some CDC staffers and alumni opted to attend virtually, worried about covid risks, according to people with knowledge of the event.

The Washington Post's Lena H. Sun contributed to this report.

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