Post #919: Still waiting to see that surge

Posted on December 15, 2020

Source:  Calculated from NY Times Github data repository, data reported through 12/14/2020, or two weeks and four days after Thanksgiving day.  The apparent one-day spike in the South Central states is an artifact of change in Texas data reporting, as explained at the end of Post #915.

Well, we’ve got about three days left for the much-anticipated post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 spike to show up.  Estimates for when cases contracted at Thanksgiving would appear in the data range from T+12 (12/8/2020, my best guess  as to median lag between infection and reporting) to as late as T+21 (12/17/2020, “three weeks”, the longest lag I’ve ever seen any source suggest).

I’m sure not seeing that spike.  Yet.

This isn’t quite a done deal yet.  Possibly that spike will occur.  But with every passing day, the odds are shifting in favor of no spike.

My continued harping on this point is NOT about pointing the finger at public officials who predicted a large post-Thanksgiving spike in COVID-19.  But if we can’t say “we didn’t have a spike”, then we can’t have the conversation about why we didn’t have a spike.

And that’s a shame, given that the holidays are here and/or right around the corner, depending on what you celebrate.   Wouldn’t it be nice to know what we did right, so we could try to do that again?

I have argued that the “spike” of cases following Canadian Thanksgiving is pure fiction.  Never happened.  All that news derived from ludicrously poor data analysis (Post #916).  So we also ought to ask what the Canadians did right, while we ask what we did right.

Did people mostly stay home?  That doesn’t quite seem to square with news report that air travel was 40% of historical norms on the day before Thanksgiving.

Were travelers and socializers ultra-cautious in their behavior, thanks to that warning about a COVID-spike?  Getting tested before traveling, being scrupulous about mask use and distancing, holding dinner outdoors, and so on?  In which case, are we really just looking at the outcome of good public policy (the warning) that averted the very disaster that the public policy warned about?

Or was this really just not that big a risk in the first place?

Beats me.  But it’s now about two weeks to New Year’s Eve, and nobody’s even asking the questions.

The key public health officials who made the prediction of a post-Thanksgiving COVID surge aren’t going to be jumping at the chance to discuss why they were wrong.  They’d be just as happy if this slipped into the past without anybody noticing.  Somebody needs to hold their feet to the (toasty holiday) fire and at least try to get some answers to those questions.

Did we learn anything from this, or not?