Pandemic blog 42: Thanksgiving

A lot of political tumult about Thanksgiving and whether turkey dinners are likely to give the pandemic another boost in the last few months before vaccines become available.

Maybe! But I think these things are really hard to predict and my conviction that they’re hard has only gotten firmer over the last few months. Here’s a sketch of how large-scale interstate travel and protracted indoor maskless multigenerational proximity might not generate new outbreak conditions.

  • At least one family I know who traveled for Thanksgiving quarantined for two weeks before hand. In general, public health advice has been not so much “never see anyone” as “ration your in-person interactions to prioritize the ones that really matter to you.” It doesn’t seem implausible to me that people who are planning to spend five hours eating dinner with grandma would have limited their bar-going in the weeks before. If that’s the case, total November transmission opportunities might not be any higher than if there hadn’t been Thanksgiving.
  • In the same vein, it’s possible that people who chose to celebrate Thanksgiving in person are differentially likely to be those who have already contracted COVID and recovered, which makes them much less likely sources of spread.
  • Am I being too optimistic about people dialing back their in-person socialization if they’re doing Thanksgiving? Maybe! But it really does seem to be the case that people, in the aggregate, respond to disease conditions. When a region gets hit hard with virus, the wave does tend to crest, whether the regional government imposes hard limits on gatherings or not, and it really doesn’t look like that crest is happening because immunity levels have gotten high enough to suppress outbreak without behavior change. I think that, despite lots of coverage of defiant COVID truthers, the median person is aware of the outbreak status where they are and changes their behavior accordingly. So you get some amount of homeostasis from aggregate behavior change. I really do think this is part of the story! My memory is that in Wisconsin in March, cellphone data showed that visits to stores dropped sharply before there was a state stay-at-home order.

Anyway, we were not among the travellers; I bought a smoked turkey from Beef Butter BBQ and candied up some yams and made a green bean / cream of mushroom soup / french fried onion casserole, which, like the WKRP Thanksgiving episode, turned out to be enjoyable but not as great as I remembered from childhood. We had long Zoom calls with both my family and Dr. Mrs. Q’s, We felt grateful, as we have been all year, that this is easier on our family than it is on most other people.

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2 thoughts on “Pandemic blog 42: Thanksgiving

  1. Ryan Jones says:

    Having a hard time knowing what to believe.
    As you should be aware, most Republicans now believe that there has been massive voter fraud, but in the last week this has been tempered with a lack of evidence for the charges being made, which is tempered with a knowledge that the allegations of voter fraud must be preserved to be given in a court of law, and that the fact that if the testimony of the witnesses were exposed to the press, the witnesses would be harassed viciously by the Democrats. If you are unaware of any of what I just said, you are willfully ignorant. There is also the specter of the law suits being overturned in court so far, but what judge wants to bare the burden of overturning an election, especially given the fact of what I just said. I am so far left unsure of what to believe. You, no doubt since you are a Democrat, don’t believe the charges being made. and I must admit that I have some sympathy for that position. It seems to me that most of what was done by Democrats was in an effort to get as many people as possible to vote. I am aware of the fact that the public in general are majority Democrat, but we Republicans really don’t want it to be too easy to vote, partly because we stand to gain from restrictive voting patterns, but more specifically because the general public does not invest a proper degree of thought to the results of an election before they choose who they favor in an election, which seems dubious to the prospect of an open democracy. We, Republicans, want people to have to think a little before they vote, so requiring that it is to some degree difficult to vote is part of what we believe to be the price of a fair and just democracy. We don’t want the average person to be able to impose his whim on the rest of the public, since they can always choose that more be taken from the better off to be given to the average off. I, for one, always believe in complete honesty to my motives. However, I do believe that a policy of what I just said is wiser than the alternative in which you no doubt believe. But it is the prospect that those responsible for the integrity of our elections have betrayed our trust in them that I find most distressing. In what can we count on in this society if our institutions are that weak. I don’t want to believe this has happened any more than you do, or are you willing to let your preferences dictate your beliefs, as so many, including my own sister and her husband, have done? As a mathematician you should only want the real reality, whatever that is. Do you? This is why I found the fact that you were an ardent Democrat somewhat disturbing in itself. It is the election that the virus gave us that I have nightmares about, not the virus itself. You, and all the rest of the Democrats really ought to want the correct outcome of the election to be known as the first thing in your concern with what has been alleged. I would be curious to know what your beliefs were in this matter.

    Ryan Jones

  2. grigorylukin says:

    I’ve just read an excerpt from your book, fell in love with it, and ordered the paperback. :) I look forward to devouring it, as well as your blog.

    I’m not as optimistic as you about people’s rationality, though Assuming X% ignore recommendations and go to bars/parties with high exposure risk, and Y% of them would care enough to change their behaviour 2 weeks before Thanksgiving, and there are 10-15 people getting together for an average Thanksgiving meal (let’s say 13)… You’re right, this really is an exercise in bad statistics. :)

    Considering that ~48 million Americans traveled the weekend before Thanksgiving, and that it was the busiest air travel day since March, and it’s relatively easy to catch covid on the plane or while eating with your mask off at the airport, that adds some more risk factors, even if you’d isolated like a champ for a fortnight. Either way, with 10-14 day incubation period and 5-10 days for bad cases to get hospitalized, we’ll be seeing the impact any day now. IIRC, the US has just hit >3,000 deaths per calendar day for the first time, and that might have been due to all the Thanksgiving shenanigans.

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