Post #999: Please invite Grandma to your Superbowl party.

Posted on February 7, 2021

If and only if she has been fully vaccinated.  And invite anybody you know who’s already recovered from COVID.




Replace Thanksgiving with the Superbowl.  Replace “surge” with “explosion”.  Print.

We’re seeing a repeat of the post-Thanksgiving/Post-Christmas “surge” warning, this time for the Superbowl.  But apparently “surge” just doesn’t cut it, click-bait-wise any more.  So now we’re being told to expect an explosion of new cases following Superbowl Sunday.

Well, maybe.  There’s certainly a case for it.  In many states, private gatherings remain the #1 source of (traceable) new infections.  Followed by workplaces.  As the night follows the day, seems like Superbowl parties are a bad idea this year.


Except that, empirically, the “post-holiday surge” story has been wrong three times now.  Wrong for Canadian Thanksgiving (Post #916).  Wrong for Thanksgiving (Post #922).  And wrong for Christmas/New Year’s (Post #948).

But who are you going to believe, the media or your own lyin’ eyes?  On the graph at the left, please identify the date of Canadian Thanksgiving based on the massive post-Canadian-Thanksgiving surge in COVID-19 cases.


Luckily, I can count on Americans’ ignorance of all things Canadian, so while we all know it’s in the fall, nobody in the U.S. actually knows the date.  And, trust me, you won’t be able to identify the date by the graph of daily new COVID cases in Canada.  (OTOH, what can you expect from a country that once had two completely different professional football teams named the Roughriders and the Rough Riders.  You do something like that, and then you blame us if we can’t name the Prime Minister?) Answer is marked in red.

And, to be clear, CDC is going to tell you to avoid Superbowl parties regardless of any evidence.  That’s the gist of Post #989.  When it comes to matters of public health, the CDC’s job isn’t to tell you what’s true.  (And it’s just silly of the new CDC director to assert that.)  Their job is to tell you whatever they think is in the interest of public health.

In other words, not doing fill-in-the-blank lowers your risk of contracting COVID, relative to doing fill-in-the-blank.  This week’s blank is “going to a Superbowl party”.  And from that, you can determine what the CDC’s message will be, regardless of (lack of) evidence of prior post-holiday surges.

Let me be clear that the Superbowl is different from and plausibly more dangerous than the Thanksgiving and year-end holidays in two important regards. 

First, people don’t take time off of work.  The COVID pandemic is now primarily a pandemic of younger working-age persons.  And work is one of the most frequent places where infection is spread, among all traceable cases of infection   And so, any disease-spreading effects of socializing over those holidays had to be offset against the disease-prevention effects of saying home from work.   There’s no offsettting work holiday for Superbowl Sunday.

Second, a Superbowl party is a near-perfect scenario for spreading COVID.  Take a bunch of unrelated people, put them in a small room that lacks ventilation designed for crowds, give them food and alcohol, and encourage loud conversation and, heaven help you, cheering.

So if we’re going to see “an explosion” following any U.S. holiday, I think the Superbowl would be it.  Superbowl parties seem to distill the essence of just about every factor that should lead to COVID spread.

But the post-holiday-surge meme has survived, despite all evidence to the contrary, because the prior holidays took place against a backdrop of rising cases.  Everybody was free to mis-interpret continuation of existing trend as “surge”.  And John Q. Public was none the wiser, because new case rates were, in fact, higher after the holidays than before the holidays.  Exactly as they had been every day for roughly the past three months, at that point.

By contrast, the Superbowl is occurring against a background of a strong downward trend.  And so this time, you won’t be able to yell “surge” based on misinterpretation of existing trend.  The only question is, given the short attention span of the American public, will anybody even think to look, two weeks after today (when the putative explosion will enter the data), to check?  Other than me, I mean.

So this time, we get a real test of the post-holiday surge meme.  People won’t be able to fake it by mistaking the pre-existing trend for “the surge”.  But will anybody bother to look?

What’s my prediction?  No surge.  Not that I have any good factual basis for that.  It’s just that we’ve seen no surge for three major North American holidays so far.  And while a Superbowl party is pretty much the perfect petri dish for COVID spread, if I had to lean one way or the other, that’s how I’d lean.

My other prediction is that if there is no surge, and it’s obvious, four weeks from now you won’t be reading about that.  Instead, you’ll see news articles on the handful of superspreader events that occurred at Superbowl parties.  It’s almost a certainty that some will occur, whatever the overall or average impact is.  So there will be plenty of fodder for standard fear-based reporting, surge or no surge.

A Superbowl party is the perfect petri dish for COVID spread.  That’s why you need to invite Grandma.

If and only if she has been fully vaccinated.  And you absolutely should invite anyone that you know who has recovered from a COVID infection.

And invite your kids, while you’re at it.  For a different reason, though.

I say this for two reasons.

First, and not really my point, put up or shut up.  If you really, truly believe that you’re not incurring risk, then act like it.  Get the people in your life who are vulnerable, or precious to you, and keep them front and center for this event.  Like Abraham and Isaac, if you aren’t willing to risk a significant sacrifice, then your belief is weak.

But more importantly, immune people need to mingle with the non-immune in order to stop the pandemic.  That’s how herd immunity works. 

I don’t quite know how else to put it.  They’re firebreaks.  They’re blanks, spacers, insulators.  They are the desert places in a landscape otherwise lush with targets for COVID infection.

In a party situation, the already-immune enforce social distancing merely by taking up space.  They keep the non-immune individuals further apart, and so less likely to be able to spread COVID from one to another.

And so, if it’s six weeks since her first shot, invite Grandma and park her in front of the big-screen TV.  So that the party has to go on around her.  That way, she’ll be doing her part to keep the spread of COVID down.

There’s actually a more important message here, about the prioritization of vaccine, and post-vaccine behavior.  Prioritizing workers who are out-and-about, particularly those in high-risk situations, is completely rational.  Right now, the bulk of new infections is occurring in the younger working-aged population.

But vaccinating (e.g.) able-bodied retirees only kind-of, sort-of makes sense. Sure, purely as a result of age, they are at risk for more severe illness (and vastly more at risk for death) if infected.  But they can, if they choose, largely isolate themselves to keep that risk to a minimum.

If an elderly person was isolated prior to vaccination, and returns to isolation following vaccination, that has no impact whatsoever on shutting down the current wave of the pandemic.  You’ve taken a person who was not going to get infected — due to good COVID hygiene — and made them not-going-to-get-infected-er — due to good COVID hygiene plus a vaccine.  But you can’t have less than zero chance of being infected.  Their likelihood of infection is unchanged, and they don’t change anyone else’s likelihood of infection.

The same is true of those who have recovered from infection.  For the same reason.  It’s all well and good that they (probably) can’t get re-infected (from the currently prevalent U.S. strains, for at least six months).  But they only serve the greater good if they get out and about and serve as dead ends for what would otherwise be chains of infection.

And once you spell it out, it’s pretty obvious, I think.  The safest Superbowl party would consist of nothing but individuals who are immune to COVID.  Duh.  Either via vaccination or via recovery from infection.

And to the extent that immune individuals constitute a higher fraction of people attending your party, the safer your party will  be.  All other things considered.

And once you grasp that, it should be pretty obvious why I’ve been harping about North Dakota.  And herd immunity.  And suchlike.  Host a Superbowl party there, and you pretty much can’t avoid inviting a whole bunch of immune individuals.   Mostly due to the “natural herd immunity” that’s a consequence of the rampant COVID infections there, less than three months ago.

And so, to North Dakota, I say, party on.  And be sure to invite (vaccinated) Grandma.  For the rest of us, party at your own risk.