COVID-19 and the Immaculate Infection

Horrible band name by the way.

Throughout the pandemic, we too often have heard various local and state officials say things like this (boldface mine):

Governor Charlie Baker has been criticized for allowing restaurants and public venues to open up, and indeed dozens of clusters during March were linked to retail stores, restaurants and food courts, and athletic events. But the vast majority of clusters — nearly 7,000 outbreaks involving 18,000 people — occurred within households, according to state data.

We are over a year into this, and both our political leaders and major news organizations still do not comprehend a basic level how spread works. Some asshole with a blog has covered this before, but it’s worth going through this again.

If we miss the superspreading events, then we miss how these infections are reaching households. Consider this known superspreading event:


Much of the spread–as determined by the number of links–does occur in households. But there’s no such thing as an immaculate infection: one or more members of these households were exposed somewhere outside of the household, and then brought it home. If we cut those external links, then household spread doesn’t happen.

One doesn’t have to be cynical to conclude that state and local governments are trying to shift blame away from failed policies. If the blame can largely be cast on inchoate factors and personal behavior, then political leaders don’t have to make difficult choices like shutting down places where transmission occurs.

This is why I say eighty percent of elected officials should not be returned to office based on their pandemic behavior, even if they weren’t actively malevolent like Trump, DeSantis, or Cuomo.

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