It's a sad state of affairs when we can't rely on the CDC to report on COVID cases in a way that clearly and straightforwardly reveals the true extent of spread and transmission, and instead have to rely on wastewater data (which can be great, but is only available in a relatively small number of areas) and Amazon reviews of candles. Yes, you read that right, Amazon reviews of candles, and in particular, Yankee Candles, are now proving as or more helpful than our own CDC in tracking COVID waves. Sigh.
Everyone has probably seen the posts on social media with screenshots of Amazon reviews of Yankee Candles, where folks are complaining that the candles have no smell. Well, anyone who has been within six feet of a Yankee Candle and who has a normal, functioning nose, knows that they emit very strong odors. So folks started speculating that if you can't smell a Yankee Candle, you might possibly have COVID, which often takes away one's ability to smell and taste. Well, a new study by Northeastern University's Nicholas Beauchamp, Assistant Professor of political science, reveals that, indeed, reviews of Yankee Candles can help predict the beginning of COVID waves. Jessica Taylor Price, writing for News@Northeastern, explains:
Beauchamp found that the hunch correlation really was causation: after controlling for seasonality, it appeared that COVID-19 cases predicted more "no smell" reviews. For every 100,000 new COVID-19 cases per week, he found, "no smell" reviews increased by a quarter of a percentage point in the next week.
The COVID-19 cases preceded "no smell" reviews, not the other way around, making the information less valuable for public health purposes. When Beauchamp added the past six months, however, there was a reversal.
"When I added those next six months, which includes the Omicron wave, it is now predictive in the sense that, in theory, the reviews give us a slight heads up," he says. He corroborated the results by conducting the same analysis with perfume reviews.
Beauchamp had verified a potential new source for public health information. Ironically, though, the discovery may also have been bad for the data. People who leave the "no smell" reviews may not know that they are ill, which can make the data quite useful. But when the tweets about the phenomenon went viral, reviewers became more self-aware. Beauchamp wrote in his paper that the data was "contaminated with self-aware disavowals of Covid" after the tweet went viral, though this did not seem to last long.
Read the rest of the article here. And please, I beg of you, if you can't smell your Yankee Candles, GET TESTED FOR COVID!