Twitter spat erupts between Chris Hunichen and Justin Bonomo over COVID notification responsibilities

Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: November 07, 2021 07:57 PST

Two high-profile poker pros in attendance at the 2021 World Series of Poker have sparred online after one of them contracted COVID-19, became symptomatic, and (allegedly) didn't immediately notify the WSOP. Nor did the player in question notify others he might have been in close contact with -- on days he might have been contagious. The spat erupted between Justin Bonomo and Chris "Big Huni" Hunichen. Bonomo claimed to have sat next to Hunichen on consecutive days in an event earlier in the series, when Hunichen may have been contagious with the coronavirus.

Bonomo did not name Hunichen when he Tweeted the following on Friday:

Hunichen wasted little time in identifying himself as the player Bonomo referenced. In a six-post mini-thread, Hunichen detailed how he didn't immediately know that he'd contracted COVID-19. He said he had taken some preventative steps, including repeated testing for his immediate family members while he remained symptomatic for several days:

Hunichen's response included firing back at Bonomo for Bonomo's decision to attend the Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) -- a three-day musical festival held October 22-24 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Though Bonomo might have a point that the WSOP had the potential to be a super-spreader event, he only belatedly acknowledged his own EDC attendance.

The EDC had a far higher likelihood than the WSOP of being a super-spreader event, and there's some anecdotal evidence that it was. Canada-born pro Vanessa Kade contracted COVID-19 for a second time several days after reputedly attending the EDC. The music carnival had vaccine mandates for those who attended. But the festival's music-lovers were then in much closer proximity to each other than players would be at the WSOP tables. The large and tightly-packed EDC crowds also rendered any sort of mask mandate a useless gesture.

Bonomo responds to return allegations

Bonomo, no stranger to controversy during his two decades in poker, responded in kind to the return fire from Hunichen and others:

Bonomo also declared, "[T]he long term effects from covid are way too often forgotten about. Long covid is real, and we don’t fully understand how bad or permanent it can be yet. The vaccine does not offer 100% protection against long covid."

One commenter responded to that by noting, "But you don’t wear a mask at the table. Ok bud." Another added, "You have both elderly and immunocompromised people in your life and you are going to EDM? wow just wow."

Spat strikes to core of COVID protection choices

The mini-feud between Bonomo and Hunichen demonstrates how imperfect knowledge regarding COVID transmission continues to impact how the WSOP plays out. Hunichen's statements about none of his family coming down with COVID betrays a certain knowledge gap in understanding how COVID-19 spreads. Transmission is non-linear. Being closer to a contagious person for a long period doesn't guarantee one will catch the virus. It just greatly increases the chances.

There are also time delays in how transmission and incubation of the virus occurs. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there are wide and overlapping ranges in play. "The incubation period for COVID-19," the CDC states, "is thought to extend to 14 days, with a median time of 4-5 days from exposure to symptoms onset. One study reported that 97.5% of people with COVID-19 who have symptoms will do so within 11.5 days of SARS-CoV-2 infection."

Further, the CDC notes, people with COVID-19 are able to transmit the virus up to 48 hours before becoming symptomatic. They may also spread the coronavirus without becoming visibly symptomatic at all. Transmissibility may also wax and wane during the course of an ongoing case.

Virtually all poker pros in attendance at the WSOP are there to make a profit, and most would prefer to attend the entire series without COVID-19 downtime. Therefore, it's fair to ask why more attendees haven't taken more thorough preventative measures. Vaccines alone offer good but not complete protection. Yet as with Kade's breakthrough case, there are no guarantees. Beyond the WSOP's vaccine mandate, each player's personal risk tolerance also comes into play. To some extent, it's been very welcome news that cases such as Hunichen's and Kade's haven't been more common. With two-and-a-half weeks of the series yet to go, everyone is crossing their fingers.

Featured image source: Haley Hintze