One of the most valuable life lessons I’ve learned is that “Just because something makes sense doesn’t mean that it’s true.” And so it seems with widespread predictions, including by Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that the beginning of this past holiday travel season was bound to cause a spike in American CCP Virus cases. (See e.g., here and here.)
Such forecasts made sense because nothing seemed more certain to be a super-spreader event than the prospect of millions, and even tens of millions, of Americans on the move, and therefore crowding airports and train stations and plane and trains themselves, as well as congregating indoors with relatives and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year.
Just one problem with these warnings: Although the holiday travel season has now come and gone, there’s no evidence that a holiday-related virus infections spike ever occurred.
Did the infection numbers go up? Of course they did. But that’s not the relevant question. Instead, it’s “Did the infection numbers go up faster once the holiday travel season began than before?” And here’s the evidence.
Thanksgiving last year came on November 26, so let’s assume that major travel began two days before. And let’s use the assessment from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that “Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.” This means that any surge related to travel for that holiday should have been apparent by December 8.
According to the Washington Post‘s CCP virus tracker feature, the national seven-day average (7DA) for reported daily infections on November 24 was 173,852. On December 8, it was 207,713, an increase of 19.48 percent. That’s big and dreadful news by any measure.
But here’s what really counts. During the (comparable) 14-day period preceding November 24, reported 7DA daily infections rose by 40.81 percent – more than twice as fast. That’s a Thanksgiving travel surge?
And the Christmas travel season wasn’t any different. Let’s say that it, too, began two days before the actual holiday – on December 23. So 14 days later was January 6. Between those two dates, reported 7DA daily CCP Virus cases increased by 3.93 percent – a much slower rate than the over the two weeks following Thanksgiving. And the 14 days before? Reported infections 7DA infections were up 2.34 percent. So even less of a surge then.
Not that there’s been no national surge lately at all. Those pre-Thanksgiving results certainly qualify. Even more revealing – it’s clear from the Post chart (which I can’t reproduce here) that the biggest virus wave broke on the nation starting around October 18 and spread through about November 20. During that period, the 7DA for reported daily cases nearly doubled – from 56,781 to 168,316. That’s a surge.
Further, given what does truly seem to be known about the CCP Virus, the explanation seems to have little to do with holiday travel surges, or possibly any type of behavior change, and much to do with the onset of colder weather nation-wide. Last I checked, there wasn’t much government could do about that during these kinds of time periods.
At the same time, the prospect of mass vaccination over the next few months creates a reasonable hope that the keepers of the public health orthodoxy won’t have the chance to issue travel warnings next holiday season. But if the nation is unlucky enough to face another virus challenge then, let’s hope that the medical experts think twice before urging the kind of social isolation that can be at least as damaging to Americans’ well-being as any micro-organism.