Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discreetly announced on October 5 that it will no longer provide public information on daily COVID-19 cases and deaths in the United States. Instead, the CDC plans to release weekly data reports starting Oct. 20, which marks a big shift. from the information the agency shared for most of the pandemic.
The CDC data was seen as a dramatic undercount for months due to the number of people testing for COVID-19 at home and not reporting their results to local health officials (who then notify the CDC), John Sellick, an infectious disease expert and epidemiology researcher at the University at Buffalo/SUNY, tells Yahoo Life. So that’s led people to try to find indicators of the next wave of COVID-19 in other areas, like Yankee Candle reviews.
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Yes, people are actually looking at reviews of the famous candle company to try and predict if there will be an increase in COVID-19 cases. The connection is quite simple: when there is an increase in reviews from people who say their candles don’t smell, there will also be an increase in COVID-19 cases. The theory, as it stands, is that these people are actually infected with COVID-19 and don’t realize it.
Although there is a fair amount of skepticism surrounding this concept, there is in fact data to back it up, courtesy of Nick Beauchampassociate professor in the political science department at Northeastern University.
Beauchamp tells Yahoo Life that he first dove into the data surrounding Yankee Candle reviews and COVID-19 cases after spotting memes that linked no-smell reviews to an increase in cases. “Most of the memes made fun of the idea of people having COVID, not knowing it, and blaming the candles,” he says. Beauchamp says he “had a few free hours,” so he looked at the data and found a link to an increase in those reviews and an increase in COVID cases. He shared the image on Twitter and it went viral. “I said, ‘Oh, shoot – I guess I have to do it right,'” he explains.
Beauchamp ended up writing a scientific article on his discoveries. He used a Google Chrome extension that garnered 9,837 Amazon reviews for the four most popular Yankee Candles over a 172-week period between 2018 and 2021. He then calculated the percentage per week of reviews mentioning phrases such as “no smell” or “no fragrance”. and plotted this data on information about COVID-19 cases during the same period. It also controlled for factors such as seasonal increases in candle purchases and COVID-19 cases.
He found that an increase in COVID-19 cases also led to an increase in bad reviews for candles – specifically, for every 100,000 new COVID-19 cases per week, there was a quarter-point increase. percentage in “odorless” reviews. next week.
Yahoo Life contacted Yankee Candle, but did not immediately receive a response.
Experts, however, doubt that this is a reliable way to tell if a wave of COVID-19 is coming. “I laughed pretty hysterically when I first saw this,” Sellick says, noting that there are several reasons why it’s not a reliable predictor.
“COVID isn’t the only thing causing loss of taste and smell,” he says. And, while previous variants of the virus caused loss of taste and smell, the Omicron variant – which is currently dominant in the United States – in particular is unrelated to this. Infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Yahoo Life there was simply too much “noise” to make it a valid indicator.
“It’s just very difficult to separate the signal from the noise,” he says. “How many people with COVID buy Yankee Candles, can’t smell them, and then write a review about them? If you had a small village where everyone buys them and writes reviews, that might be a good signal. But this is not the case .”
Even Beauchamp doubts that’s actually a thing. “I retain a healthy skepticism about reality,” he says.
Beauchamp says all the talk about his work — including by doctors — is an indicator that the data on COVID-19 isn’t so good. “It gets less precise as you go along,” he says. “People test less [frequently] and submitting their results much less [frequently].”
“The fact that medical professionals are talking about it now illustrates where we are with the data,” he continues. “Official measurements have become so unreliable that we are forced to turn to other measurements.”
While the experts say it’s a fun experience, they don’t give it too much credit. “It’s pretty much witchcraft,” Sellick says. “We haven’t done a very good job of predicting anything with this pandemic. I for one won’t be checking candle reviews to try and see if a wave of COVID-19 is coming.”
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