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There has yet to be an actual COVID-19 superspreader event. The Sturgis biker rallies, the 2020 Thanksgiving homeward migrations, the evil open beaches in Florida did not create even a ripple. COVID infections have risen and fallen in seasonality waves of nearly identical size and duration across large regions no matter who is governor or what NPIs were imposed or when they were imposed or lifted or whether and when people were permitted to gather.
Saturday, there were enormous unmasked crowds at college football games. Of particular interest could be Penn State’s big win over Auburn in front of over 100,000 unmasked fans (20,000 students) from all over Pennsylvania and elsewhere. (Penn St is always one of the top five college programs in home attendance.) The stadium is in the center of a populous state. It may be COVID’s last chance for a superspreader event in the mid-Atlantic.
COVID-19 has a dim future because increasing acquired immunity plus resistance provided by vaccines are together rapidly building herd immunity or its functional equivalent. This winter’s flu season will almost certainly be a last hurrah before the bug recedes into an endemic annoyance. And the last chance for an anomalous, actual superspreader peak would appear to be right now through mid-October.
How can we tell if Penn St- Auburn was a superspreader event? Easy. Look for a change in the curve. If COVID departs from its established pattern for the region, we can infer an intervening change. Below are the case curves for PA, DE, and MD. Notice any similarity? Duh. All three appear to be headed for or already hitting a peak. If PA departs from that shared regional pattern over the next two or three weeks the difference could be attributable to a forced intervening change. I’m betting it does not.
Will we ever really know how COVID gets around?
As a gedanken experiment, let’s examine two theories of transmission that we know to be wrong:
- COVID-19 is only transmitted by large load infected droplets delivered in close contact much like smallpox or Ebola.
- It is as if COVID-19 viral particles are virtually everywhere in long-lasting aerosols. Infection depends not on viral load but on the susceptibility of the individual since virtually everybody gets exposed eventually.
If we think of these statements as defining opposite poles on a spectrum, where on that spectrum are most infections taking place? The closer we are to #1, then masks, closures, and quarantines would have had a dramatically noticeable effect. But they did not.
Weirdly enough, the second statement appears to be a better explanation for what happened to us. That is by no means proof of proposition #2–it simply cannot be possible that there were no healthy persons who were infected by inhaling large viral loads emitted by a sick person— but it should make us wonder why our experts stubbornly act as if #1 is the sole operant model when we clearly don’t have a good handle on the nature of the pandemic.
I will hazard a guess that politicians, health officials, and medical professionals in general have an irresistible preference for a conventional, exclusive sick-to-healthy transmission model (even in the face of considerable evidence to the contrary) because the alternative is unpalatable: there really was nothing that we could have done to limit the spread or reduce the damage short of a radical isolation program for the highly vulnerable. (You want it to be a nail if all you’ve got is a hammer.)
The existing science and consensus literature in the fall of 2019 as restated by WHO was that border closings and quarantines were useless, that surgical masks would be of marginal if any value, and that lockdowns might delay an increase in cases but only for a short time and any extension or repetition of closures was of no value and come at high cost.
The bizzaro-world story of COVID-19 is that those who expressly repudiated the known science and implemented the exact opposite nevertheless claimed the mantle of scientific authority. The data accumulated for twenty months continues to expressly invalidate the assumptions that underpinned all government interventions but the normal scientific impulse to question such assumptions in light of the facts is fiercely suppressed by media and academic allies of those (absurdly) claiming to speak for science.
When mask devotees cited the silly Bangladesh study it removed all doubt that science has left the building.
On Oct. 23, when Penn State hosts Illinois, will Pennsylvania case numbers have departed from normal COVID numbers for the region or be on the downswing along with MD and DE? Will some new federal government-induced panic mode have been imposed in the interim?
Will enough experts have the residual scientific integrity and professionalism to reason through the implications of the complete absence of superspreader events and the futility of all the NPIs? Of course not, but it wouldn’t it be refreshing if they did?Published in