Why Now?

There is considerable anxiety about the surge of new cases and new deaths due to COVID-19 here in the U. S. Those are particularly severe in the Upper Midwest, i.e. North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan but isn’t limited to those states—California, Texas, and Florida are seeing surges in new cases as well albeit not as dramatic as in the Upper Midwest. The states that first experienced large numbers of cases back in the spring, e.g. New York, New Jersey, are experiencing surges in new cases although, interestingly, the surges in new deaths in those states don’t appear to be as great as in the Upper Midwest.

It isn’t just the United States. Not only is Europe having its own surge of new cases, South Korea and Japan are as well. At this point Taiwan is not.

My question is why now? I recognize that the popular explanation and that, apparently, relied on by elected officials is that the people in the Upper Midwest have not been taking the prudent steps, i.e. wearing facemasks, social distancing, etc. that might have prevented these surges and, indeed, I suspect that’s part of the reason. But, unless you believe that the Japanese and South Koreans have abandoned the practices that insulated them from the worst effects of the virus in the spring, something else is going on as well.

My own view is informed by the following beliefs:

  • Not everyone is equally susceptible to the virus even when exposed to it.
  • Not everyone has an equal likelihood of dying if they contract COVID-19.
  • The risk factors include age, genetics, pre-existing conditions, behavior and probably some other unappreciated factors.
  • Exposure to sunlight mitigates the risks somewhat.
  • Interior air circulation mitigates the risks somewhat.
  • Previous exposure to related viruses mitigates the risks somewhat.
  • Concentration of the virus increases the risks somewhat.

Some of those have evidence to support them, some stand to reason, other are speculative. I cannot disaggregate the relative importance of any of these factors.

Taiwan is in the tropics. That means more sunlight at a different angle at this time of year than is experienced, for example, in the Upper Midwest of the U. S. Heating is rare in homes there and many do not have air conditioning either. Due to its commerce with the mainland many Taiwanese people may have been exposed to viruses related to COVID-19 in the past. In addition most Taiwanese people are Han Chinese and may have genetic predispositions to be less susceptible to the virus. Also wearing facemasks is practically universal.

11 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    Arguably, Illinois has been the hardest hit in this wave, and while I occasionally see it described as Upper Midwest, or Winter is here, neither is true. Here is Youyang Gu on twitter wondering why the media doesn’t cover this:

    “Last week, Illinois reported 15,415 cases in a single day, more than Florida ever did in a single day. This is despite Illinois’ population being 40% lower.

    “No other state has ever averaged 12,000 cases a day for a whole week. Not even Florida (1.7x pop), California (3x pop), and Texas (2.3x pop).

    “For deaths per capita, Illinois also exceeded the peak deaths in Florida twice, once in May and once again now. So why is this not news?

    “On the surface, Illinois has done many things “right”:

    – Mask mandate since May 1
    – $5M ad campaign to encourage mask wearing
    – Closing indoor dining/bars at end of October
    – Stay at home advisory in Chicago and additional statewide restrictions enacted last week

    “We hear a lot of the talk about how the deaths in Florida were “preventable”. What about the ones in Illinois?”


  • PD Shaw Link

    Some clarification on Winter. I think seasons mean different things if you live in Minneapolis or Little Rock. I think people over-assume a strong reaction on the Northern Plains to normal weather conditions. But for most of the interior of the country, October and November have had above-average temperatures. The increase in reproduction seemed to start with the Autumn Equinox and increase at higher rate about one month later. That’s suggestive of seasonal change, but I really doubt its about people cowering indoors because of the weather. A more plausible explanation is that in places with more extreme seasons, Fall is an opportunity to do a lot of things before Winter comes. But also note that the interior surge extends all the way down to the Upper Rio Grande.

  • Andy Link

    We’ve got a spike here and my county just went to “red” which is the stage before a “lockdown.” People on the various state and local forums (Reddit, Facebook, and Nextdoor) seem to believe this spike is entirely caused by people failing to wear masks and by the governor not “cracking down.”

    Both of these explanations are obviously wrong or, at least, not the primary factors based on actual outbreak data.

  • Grey Shambler Link

    I understood it’s three months on, but to me the elephant in the room is schools.
    I’m in favor of schools being open but there may be a price.
    Staff, teachers, janitors, bus drivers, office staff, all front line workers.
    Activities such as sports, drama, music add to risk.
    Could be wrong but it really hasn’t been cold yet so I doubt seasonality.

  • PD:

    I think that confirms my view that policy has practically nothing to do with the surge in cases.

    Grey Shambler:

    As one of the articles I linked to a week or so ago pointed out there isn’t much evidence that schools being open spread the virus. Faculty and staff are probably just as safe in school as they are not being in school. The kids are probably safer.

    And the amount and angle of sunlight doesn’t depend on whether it’s cold or not but on the time of year.

  • Andy Link


    Before my school district went online-only, we peaked at 165 confirmed cases out of a total student and staff population of almost 30k. What killed online school was not the Covid cases themselves, but the quarantines from people with “covid-like symptoms” which primarily turned out to be colds.

    The exceptions, here in Colorado at least, are the Universities and colleges. CU Boulder, for example, had 1600+ positive cases this fall with a total student-staff population of 35k.

    Meanwhile, the two Costcto’s in town both have had recent outbreaks among employees totally around 50 people. It’s impossible to know if those employees spread it to customers or to what degree.

  • steve Link

    The now part is pretty easy. First, this is respiratory virus season. The conservatives on this site that a belief in such a thing was solely politically based, but we have years of history showing this. Next, we did loosen up on gatherings, restaurants, bars etc. We did have kids go back to school. Younger kids are not so much a vector but older kids are. Last, I think there is just fatigue with precautions, including face masks. So I think a surge was predictable.

    Why does it affect some areas more than others? Your list is fine. I would add humidity. Add in the face mask/distancing etc and I dont find it unexpected that there is a lot of variation.


  • PD Shaw Link

    Grey, our city’s school district never reopened, and we’ve had triple the hospitalizations of the first wave.

  • PD Shaw Link

    In Illinois, about 60 percent of students are in remote only, 30 percent hybrid, and 10 percent in school.

    Size of school district is important factor. Among school districts with over 6,000 students enrolled, over 83% are in remote only, and 17% are in hybrid.

    Official numbers from State, but are not completely accurate, because it shows our school district as hybrid. They approved a hybrid plan, but never triggered it.


  • Drew Link

    “The conservatives on this site that a belief in such a thing was solely politically based, but we have years of history showing this.”

    As usual, trafficking in falsehoods. I believe this is the sentence you should be looking for:

    “I think that confirms my view that policy has practically nothing to do with the surge in cases.”

    And the policy has most assuredly been politically based. Are you capable of understanding the distinction?

  • Grey Shambler Link

    Schools may well not be it, god forbid I’m wrong.
    But seasonality? Attributed to UV rays? We live mostly indoors, outside, it’s a world of shadows, cities are concrete canyons. I don’t understand seasonality at all, unless it’s historical with no understood cause.

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