Quickie Post — COVID’s Balance between Seasonality and Sociality

Fields of sunflowers — adjacent to the Neusiedlersee, Burgenland, Austria

One of the fascinating elements lacking from the discussion regarding COVID-19 is its obvious seasonality. I think it’s a fair point to say at the beginning of the pandemic, researchers really didn’t have enough information to say much about the coronavirus as a seasonal phenomenon. Plus, it WAS novel, and who knows? It might actually be the Andromeda Strain.

As time has rolled on, it’s certainly proved NOT to be, though there are still lots of government officials in both Europe and the US who are desperately clinging to the notion. Low v-Meme folks gonna low v-Meme, and that means manipulating people into a frothy limbic panic about their loved ones dying, while offering no nuanced, long-term perspective (as well as individual remediation) for the threat posed. As I’ve written earlier, instead of the holistic discussion we really need about how we can come together around an issue of public health, we see instead intense “binning” into Left/Right perspectives, as well both sides playing Tweetle Beetle paddle games with their respective, preferential tools. See diagram below in case your memory needs refreshing on this Dr. Seuss classic.

Self-explanatory — by Dr. Seuss

But there ARE interesting — and important things to understand regarding COVID – namely the effect of the balance between seasonality and sociality in the spread of the bug. Seasonality — well, we can’t do much about that. But sociality definitely can matter, though exactly how much, we can’t be sure. There is no way to run a real, controlled experiment on people with viruses. So we rely on our unintentional “experiments” , like cruise ships and prisons. With regards to appropriate sociality and seasonality, we do know when these two things come together, COVID spreads literally like wildfire — even if the consequences are not as dire as many have portrayed them as.

It’s in that spirit that I offer up this thought experiment — what does this graph of COVID deaths in Nevada tell us?

Nevada COVID deaths history

Nevada’s a fascinating state. First off, it is relatively high elevation — the Great Basin does indeed have some low spots (Nevada is adjacent to Death Valley, which is below sea level!) but most of it is medium-high plains desert. It doesn’t get more empty than the Great Basin’s version of the Big Empty along US 50. At the same time, most of its population is concentrated into urban areas, where the effect of that concentration can create meaningful, significant (but of course, tragic) data.

As such, the latter part of its COVID deaths track the shape of other high elevation US locations, like South Dakota and Montana. Starting around the middle of June, we see the classic seasonality shift toward a summer respiratory season that exists in other locations. Here’s Montana, for example. A light, seasonal COVID season — but well-pronounced as far as that High Plains pattern.

Montana COVID deaths

So here’s the thought exercise. I’m guessing that Nevada’s COVID death curves give some representation of a balance of sociality and seasonality of the pandemic. Las Vegas was certainly the start of COVID deaths that led to that hump in March and April. Sociality mattered, and drove heavy, continual dosing of Las Vegas from around the US and gave us that first part — meaning that for a green field pandemic, sociality can matter.

But nothing can really match the power of seasonality. When it’s time for viral spread, you get it. That would be the second hump. High, dry climates aren’t conducive to viral spread anyway, so we see low overall percentages of deaths relative to other parts of the U.S. And Nevada has no super-spreader system like New York City.

It’s worth spending some time with the Google COVID death tool and see how your state, or country is faring — and then apply your own intuition. The results are surprising.

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