K: The Overlooked Variable That’s Driving the Pandemic

Zeynep Tufekci, writing for The Atlantic:

Unfortunately, averages aren’t always useful for understanding the distribution of a phenomenon, especially if it has widely varying behavior. If Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, walks into a bar with 100 regular people in it, the average wealth in that bar suddenly exceeds $1 billion. If I also walk into that bar, not much will change. Clearly, the average is not that useful a number to understand the distribution of wealth in that bar, or how to change it. Sometimes, the mean is not the message. Meanwhile, if the bar has a person infected with COVID-19, and if it is also poorly ventilated and loud, causing people to speak loudly at close range, almost everyone in the room could potentially be infected — a pattern that’s been observed many times since the pandemic begin, and that is similarly not captured by R. That’s where the dispersion comes in.

Another must-read piece from Tufekci. The CDC and WHO have both been way too slow to acknowledge the ways that this virus actually spreads and adapt their mitigation advice accordingly. It doesn’t spread like influenza at all. Super-spreading events are the key.

Monday, 5 October 2020